June 4, 2009

Soil carbon stays put in switch from pasture to no-till corn

Farmers who planted no-till corn where pasture or grasses once grew can still sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to a report from scientists with the Agricultural Research Service. Find more information on the study here.

This Nebraska-based study was conducted by Ron Follett, a senior supervisory scientist at the ARS Soil Plant Nutrient Research Unit in Fort Collins, Colorado. It included six years of monitoring soil organic carbon levels in a field that was converted from bromegrass to no-till corn.

The researchers collected soil samples at three depths to analyze the total amount of soil carbon at each depth and determine whether the carbon was previously sequestered by bromegrass or newly sequestered by the corn.

The results were recently published in Agronomy Journal and showed that: the total amount of carbon didn’t change.

The rates of loss of soil organic carbon previously sequestered in the top two depths by the bromegrass were offset by similar rates of increase in newly sequestered carbon from the corn. There was little or no change at the third depth.

In other words, converting grass/pasture land to no-till corn production had no impact on GHG emissions from the soil and helps refute the indirect land use theory.

Photo: From Debbie Borg's blog post - no-till corn planted on a field that has been no-till for 20 years.

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