Crop performance matters when evaluating greenhouse gas emissions: study

Sep 06, 2011

Measuring the emission of greenhouse gases from croplands should take into account the crops themselves.

That's the conclusion of a study in the Sept.-Oct. issue of the , which examined the impact of farm practices such as tillage on the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Expressing emissions per unit of crop yield rather than on a more conventional per area basis produced very different results, says the study's leader, Rod Venterea, research soil scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

In particular, his team found that total nitrous oxide emissions were not significantly affected by tillage practices when expressed on an area basis. When they were calculated per unit yield of grain, however, emissions were significantly greater under no-tillage compared with . A byproduct of many , nitrous oxide is a (GHG) with a heat-trapping potential more than 300 times that of .

The findings have important implications for how the generated by agriculture are reported, evaluated, and potentially mitigated. Nitrous oxide emissions were slighter higher under no-till on a per area basis in the study, Venterea explains, but not high enough to differ statistically from those under conventional tillage. "But when we added in the fact that no-tillage also reduced yields, the effect of tillage did become significant," he says. "The point is that you need to look at both nitrous oxide emissions and yield together."

While previous studies have shown that practices like fertilizer and tillage management can affect nitrous oxide emissions, relatively few have reported the effects of these practices on crop performance at the same time. In addition, GHG emissions are commonly expressed with respect to area of field: for example, kilogram nitrous oxide emitted per hectare. Recent research has suggested that expressing GHG emissions per unit of yield may be more meaningful, although few studies have actually done that.

To see how yield-scaled calculations might change the picture on emissions, USDA-ARS researchers in collaboration with University of Minnesota colleagues measured the effects of tillage and nitrogen (N) management on nitrous oxide emissions, grain yields, and crop N uptake over three consecutive growing seasons in Minnesota. The experiment was conducted in research plots used for corn and soybean production, which were maintained under either no-till or conventional tillage for 18 years.

When the scientists calculated nitrous per unit yield of grain or grain N, they found that emissions under no-tillage were 52 and 66% higher, respectively, than with conventional tillage. In other words, for this cropping system and climate, Venterea says, no-till practices would generate substantially more than would conventional tillage for the same amount of grain. The effect was due to lower yields under no-till, combined with slightly greater area-scaled .

Reduced yields under continuous no-till management in parts of the upper Midwest and other regions have been attributed to lower soil temperatures in spring, which may inhibit plant development. In other geographic regions, though, no-till can actually increase yields.

"So, for these other regions, expressing GHG emissions on a yield-basis could reveal benefits to no-till management that otherwise might not be quantified," Venterea says.

Explore further: Drought may take toll on Congo rainforest, study finds

More information: www.agronomy.org/publications/jeq/abstracts/40/5/1521

Provided by American Society of Agronomy

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Reducing Agriculture's Climate Change Footprint

Nov 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cultivated fields may require going beyond cutting back on nitrogen fertilizer and changing crop rotation cycles, according to research by Agricultural ...

US greenhouse gas emissions and capture, regionally

Aug 12, 2010

A new report, Agriculture's Role in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Capture, commissioned by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, examines the evidence for greenhouse ...

ARS Explores Ways to Keep Carbon in the Soil

Dec 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are testing out alternative ways of tilling the soil and rotating crops to see if they can help wheat farmers in Oregon sequester more carbon ...

Recommended for you

Drought may take toll on Congo rainforest, study finds

6 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new analysis of NASA satellite data shows Africa's Congo rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, has undergone a large-scale decline in greenness over the past decade.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
Thanks for the report on nitrous oxide (N2O).

N2O is somewhat like carbon monoxide (CO), the chemical form of an element that might be readily oxidized into more stable CO2, the gaseous form of carbon that plants inhale during photosynthesis to produce grains, etc.

More news stories

On global warming, settled science and George Brandis

The Australian Attorney General, Senator George Brandis is no stranger to controversy. His statement in parliament that "people do have a right to be bigots" rapidly gained him notoriety, and it isn't hard to understand why ...