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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 48(8)

Soil carbon sequestration rates and associated economic costs for farming systems of south-eastern Australia

Peter R. Grace A F, John Antle B, Stephen Ogle C, Keith Paustian C D and Bruno Basso E A

A Institute for Sustainable Resources, Queensland University of Technology, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane, Qld 4000, Australia.
B Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-3601, USA.
C Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.
D Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.
E University of Basilicata, Via Ateneo Lucano, 10-85100 Potenza, Italy.
F Corresponding author. Email: pr.grace@qut.edu.au

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(8) 720-729 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SR10063
Submitted: 14 March 2010  Accepted: 25 June 2010   Published: 19 November 2010

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Soil organic carbon (C) sequestration rates based on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) methodology were combined with local economic data to simulate the economic potential for C sequestration in response to conservation tillage in the six agro-ecological zones within the Southern Region of the Australian grains industry. The net C sequestration rate over 20 years for the Southern Region (which includes discounting for associated greenhouse gases) is estimated to be 3.6 or 6.3 Mg C/ha after converting to either minimum or no-tillage practices, respectively, with no-till practices estimated to return 75% more carbon on average than minimum tillage. The highest net gains in C per ha are realised when converting from conventional to no-tillage practices in the high-activity clay soils of the High Rainfall and Wimmera agro-ecological zones. On the basis of total area available for change, the Slopes agro-ecological zone offers the highest net returns, potentially sequestering an additional 7.1 Mt C under no-tillage scenario over 20 years.

The economic analysis was summarised as C supply curves for each of the 6 zones expressing the total additional C accumulated over 20 years for a price per t C sequestered ranging from zero to AU$200. For a price of $50/Mg C, a total of 427 000 Mg C would be sequestered over 20 years across the Southern Region, <5% of the simulated C sequestration potential of 9.1 Mt for the region. The Wimmera and Mid-North offer the largest gains in C under minimum tillage over 20 years of all zones for all C prices. For the no-tillage scenario, for a price of $50/Mg C, 1.74 Mt C would be sequestered over 20 years across the Southern Region, <10% of the simulated C sequestration potential of 18.6 Mt for the region over 20 years. The Slopes agro-ecological zone offers the best return in C over 20 years under no-tillage for all C prices. The Mallee offers the least return for both minimum and no-tillage scenarios. At a price of $200/Mg C, the transition from conventional tillage to minimum or no-tillage practices will only realise 19% and 33%, respectively, of the total biogeochemical sequestration potential of crop and pasture systems of the Southern Region over a 20-year period.

Additional keywords:carbon sequestration, conservation tillage, economics, greenhouse gases.


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