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Carbon footprint of cropping systems with grain legumes and cover crops: A case-study in SW France

Plaza-Bonilla D., Nogué-Serra I., Raffaillac D., Cantero-Martínez C., Justes E.. 2018. Agricultural Systems, 167 : p. 92-102.

Agriculture contributes to a significant proportion of global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) but can also participate in climate change mitigation. The introduction of legumes in crop rotations reduces the dependence on N fertilizers and may mitigate the carbon (C) footprint of cropping systems. The aim of this study was to quantify the C footprint of six low-input arable cropping systems resulting from the combination of three levels of grain legumes introduction in a 3-yr rotation (GL0: no grain legumes, GL1: 1 grain legume, GL2: 2 grain legumes) and the use of cover crops (CC) or bare fallow (BF) between cash crops, covering two rotation cycles (6?years). The approach considered external emissions, on-site emissions and soil organic carbon (SOC) stock changes, and prioritized (i) field observations and (ii) simulation of non-measured variables with the STICS model, rather than default emission factors. As expected, fertilizers accounted for 80¿90% of external emissions, being reduced by 50% and 102% with grain legumes introduction in GL1-BF and GL2-BF, compared to the cereal-based rotation (GL0-BF). Cover crops management increased machinery emissions by 24¿35% compared to BF. Soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions were low, ranging between 205 and 333?kg CO2 eq. ha?1?yr?1 in GL1-BF and GL0-BF, respectively. Nitrate leaching represented the indirect emission of 11.6 to 27.2?kg CO2 eq. ha?1?yr?1 in the BF treatments and 8.2 to 10.7?kg CO2 eq. ha?1?yr?1 in the CC treatments. Indirect emissions due to ammonia volatilization ranged between 8.4 and 41.8?kg CO2 eq. ha?1?yr?1. The introduction of grain legumes strongly influenced SOC changes and, consequently, the C footprint. In the BF systems, grain legumes introduction in the rotations led to a significant increase in the C footprint, because of higher SOC losses. Contrarily, the use of cover crops mitigated SOC losses, and lowered the C footprint. These results indicated the need of CC when increasing the number of grain legumes in cereal-based rotations. Despite the multiple known benefits of introducing grain legumes in cropping systems our research highlights the need to consider soil organic carbon changes in environmental assessments.

Mots-clés : légumineuse; séquestration du carbone; rotation culturale; réduction des émissions; changement climatique

Thématique : Météorologie et climatologie; Systèmes et modes de culture; Chimie et physique du sol; Biologie du sol

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