Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Powlson, D. S., Stirling, C. M., Jat, M. L., Gerard, B. G., Palm, C. A., Sanchez, P. A. and Cassman, K. G. 2014. Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation. Nature Climate Change. 4 (8), pp. 678-683.

AuthorsPowlson, D. S., Stirling, C. M., Jat, M. L., Gerard, B. G., Palm, C. A., Sanchez, P. A. and Cassman, K. G.
Abstract

The Emissions Gap Report 2013 from the United Nations Environment Programme restates the claim that changing to no-till practices in agriculture, as an alternative to conventional tillage, causes an accumulation of organic carbon in soil, thus mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration. But these claims ignore a large body of experimental evidence showing that the quantity of additional organic carbon in soil under no-till is relatively small: in large part apparent increases result from an altered depth distribution. The larger concentration near the surface in no-till is generally beneficial for soil properties that often, though not always, translate into improved crop growth. In many regions where no-till is practised it is common for soil to be cultivated conventionally every few years for a range of agronomic reasons, so any soil carbon benefit is then lost. We argue that no-till is beneficial for soil quality and adaptation of agriculture to climate change, but its role in mitigation is widely overstated. 

KeywordsRRES175; 175_Climatology; 175_Soil science; 175_Agroecology
Year of Publication2014
JournalNature Climate Change
Journal citation4 (8), pp. 678-683
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1038/nclimate2292
Open accessPublished as non-open access
Funder project or codeDelivering Sustainable Systems (SS) [ISPG]
Cropping Carbon (CC) [ISPG]
Publication dates
Online30 Jul 2014
ISSN17586798
PublisherSpringer Nature

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