New research explains why an old farming practice -- leaving crop residues to rot on the ground instead of clearing them away or turning them into compost -- keeps larger amounts of carbon in the soil and thus helps to reduce greenhouse gases. In fact, leaving crop residues to rot locks carbon into the soil for four times longer than if the residues were cleared away. That is because soils containing crop fragments are richer in soil fungi, whose long filaments essentially package soil and organic matter into clumps. Abandoning crop leftovers, as many farmers already do, thus should be used much more intentionally to lock carbon into soil, the researchers say.

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