Newer methods of management and harvesting of sugarcane are being considered to improve soil and water conservation in Brazil. Our aim in this study was to evaluate soil C dynamics under sugarcane cultivation as influenced by the use of conservation management, using measurements from four different management systems and land use histories, i.e. conventional management with preharvest burning, no burning with residue retention and two systems without burning plus additional organic amendments. Field sites also differed in terms of soil texture. We compared field measurements of soil C stocks, 13C and microbial biomass with simulated results from the Century ecosystem model for each of the sites and management histories. We also did long-term simulations of the management treatments and sites to approximate steady-state SOC levels, to explore potential management-induced differences in SOC stocks and interactions with soil texture. The model accurately represented treatment and site differences for total SOC stocks, in which SOC stocks were strongly affected by both rates of organic matter input to soil and soil clay content. However, the model tended to underestimate the relative contribution of sugarcane-derived C to total SOC for sites with high residue and external organic matter amendments. Measured microbial biomass C across the sites was closely aligned with relative amounts of organic matter input but did not appear to be strongly affected by soil texture, whereas the model predicted that both texture and organic matter input rate would impact microbial biomass C. Long-term simulations of the conservation management alternatives suggested that SOC stocks could be maintained at or above levels in the original native Cerradão vegetation, whereas conventional practices using residue burning would result in a reduction of SOC to ca. 60% of native levels. Our results support the use of the CENTURY model as an aid to assess the impacts of different soil management practices on SOC stocks under sugarcane in Brazil.