Intensification of arable crop production degrades soil health and production potential through loss of soil organic carbon. This, potentially, reduces agriculture's resilience to climate change and thus food security. Furthermore, the expected increase in frequency of adverse and extreme weather events due to climate change are likely to affect crop yields differently, depending on when in the growing season they occur.
We show that soil carbon provides farmers with a natural insurance against climate change through a gain in yield stability and more resilient production. To do this, we combined yield observations from 12 sites and 54 years of Swedish long-term agricultural experiments with historical weather data. To account for heterogenous climate effects, we partitioned the growing season into four representative phases for two major cereal crops. Thereby, we provide evidence that higher soil carbon increases yield gains from favourable conditions and reduces yield losses due to adverse weather events and how this occurs over different stages of the growing season. However, agricultural management practices that restore the soil carbon stock, thus contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, usually come at the cost of foregone yield for the farmer in the short term. To halt soil degradation and make arable crop production more resilient to climate change, we need agricultural policies that address the public benefits of soil conservation and restoration.