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Soil carbon stocks under different pastures and pasture management in the higher rainfall areas of south-eastern Australia

K. Y. Chan A B D , A. Oates A , G. D. Li A , M. K. Conyers A , R. J. Prangnell A , G. Poile A , D. L. Liu A and I. M. Barchia C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A E.H. Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, PMB, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia.

B Industry & Investment NSW, Locked Bag 4, Richmond, NSW 2753, Australia.

C Industry & Investment NSW, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, PMB 8, Menangle, NSW 2570, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(1) 7-15
Submitted: 14 May 2009  Accepted: 31 August 2009   Published: 26 February 2010


In Australia, pastures form the basis of the extensive livestock industries and are important components of crop rotation systems. Despite recent interest in the soil carbon sequestration value of pastures in the mitigation of climate change, little information is available on the soil carbon sequestration potential of pastures in New South Wales farming systems. To quantify the soil carbon stocks under different pastures and a range of pasture management practices, a field survey of soil carbon stocks was undertaken in 2007 in central and southern NSW as well as north-eastern Victoria, using a paired-site approach. Five comparisons were included: native v. introduced perennial, perennial v. annual, continuous v. rotational grazing, pasture cropping v. control, and improved v. unimproved pastures.

Results indicated a wide range of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks over 0–0.30 m (22.4–66.3 t C/ha), with little difference when calculated based on either constant soil depth or constant soil mass. Significantly higher SOC stocks were found only as a result of pasture improvement using P application compared with unimproved pastures. In this case, rates of sequestration were estimated to range between 0.26 and 0.72 t C/ha.year, with a mean rate of 0.41 t C/ha.year. Lack of significant differences in SOC stocks for the other pastures and pasture management practice comparisons could be due to inherent problems associated with the paired-site survey approach, i.e. large variability, difficulties in obtaining accurate site history, and the occasional absence of a valid control as well as the likely lower rates of SOC sequestration for these other comparisons. There is a need for scientific long-term trials to quantify the SOC sequestration potential of these other pastures and pasture management practices.

Additional keywords: pasture improvement, soil carbon sink, grazing management, long term trials, carbon trading.


This project was financially supported by Climate Action Grants, NSW Government. We are indebted to all the participating farm owners and managers for their co-operation and interest on this investigation. We thank Dr Brian Cullis for his critical reviews, which have improved the statistical aspect of this paper.


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