Large-scale deployment of grass in crop rotations as a multifunctional soil-based climate mitigation strategy

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Authors

Oskar Englund , Blas Mola-Yudego, Pål Börjesson, Göran Berndes, Christel Cederberg, Ioannis Dimitriou, Nicolae Scarlat

Abstract

The agriculture sector can contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sequestering atmospheric carbon in vegetation and soils, and providing biomass to substitute for fossil fuels and other GHG intensive products (IPCC, 2019). New policies at the EU level provide incentives for more sustainable land-use practices, including cultivation systems with perennial species that provide biomass along with land carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits (European Commission, 2018). One such system is the inclusion of grass in crop rotations with annual crops, a common practice in northern Europe (Jarvis et al., 2017). Here, we estimate the effects of widespread deployment of such systems to remediate soil organic carbon (SOC) losses from historic land use while producing biomass and additional environmental benefits. Based on spatial modeling across more than 81,000 sub-watersheds in Europe, we find a substantial SOC sequestration potential for European cropland when introducing two to four years of grass into a four-year rotation with annual crops to create new six- to eight-year mixed rotations. The environmental co-benefits, including reduced wind and water erosion, reduced nitrogen emissions to water, and mitigated flooding events, are notable—in some cases exceeding the estimated mitigation needs. The combined annual GHG savings from soil-carbon sequestration and use of biogas from grass-based biorefineries are equivalent to 13-48% of current GHG emissions from agriculture. Incentivizing widespread deployment will require supportive policy measures as well as new markets for grass biomass, e.g., as feedstock for biofuels and protein concentrate.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31223/X5KW5J

Subjects

Agriculture, Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering, Natural Resources Management and Policy, Other Environmental Sciences, Soil Science

Keywords

agriculture, land use, perennial crops, ley, soil carbon, environmental benefits

Dates

Published: 2021-10-27 00:56

Last Updated: 2022-02-09 16:01

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License

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Manuscript is under review and data will be shared publically at a later stage.

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