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Soil, land care and environmental research
RESEARCH ARTICLE

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

Abstract

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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