Indexed on: 02 Sep '11Published on: 02 Sep '11Published in: Climatic Change
Previous research has demonstrated that soil carbon sequestration through adoption of conservation tillage can be economically profitable depending on the value of a carbon offset in a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions market. However adoption of conservation tillage also influences two other potentially important factors, changes in soil N2O emissions and CO2 emissions attributed to changes in fuel use. In this article we evaluate the supply of GHG offsets associated with conservation tillage adoption for corn-soy-hay and wheat-pasture systems of the central United States, taking into account not only the amount of carbon sequestration but also the changes in soil N2O emission and CO2 emissions from fuel use in tillage operations. The changes in N2O emissions are derived from a meta-analysis of published studies, and changes in fuel use are based on USDA data. These are used to estimate changes in global warming potential (GWP) associated with adoption of no-till practices, and the changes in GWP are then used in an economic analysis of the potential supply of GHG offsets from the region. Simulation results demonstrate that taking N2O emissions into account could result in substantial underestimation of the potential for GHG mitigation in the central U.S. wheat pasture systems, and large over-estimation in the corn-soy-hay systems. Fuel use also has quantitatively important effects, although generally smaller than N2O. These findings suggest that it is important to incorporate these two effects in estimates of GHG offset potential from agricultural lands, as well as in the design of GHG offset contracts for more complete accounting of the effect that no-till adoption will have on greenhouse gas emissions.