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Evaluating the impact of soil conservation measures on soil organic carbon at the farm scale

Pezzuolo, Andrea, Dumont, Benjamin, Sartori, Luigi, Marinello, Francesco, De Antoni Migliorati, Massimiliano, Basso, Bruno
Computers and electronics in agriculture 2017
agricultural soils, autumn, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, carbon sinks, climate, crop residues, crops, data collection, direct seeding, farmers, farms, greenhouse gas emissions, issues and policy, models, no-tillage, oxidation, soil conservation, soil fertility, soil organic carbon, subsidies, Italy
No-tillage (NT) is considered the least invasive conservation agriculture technique and has shown to be the effective in increasing soil C stocks, and reducing losses compared to others tillage systems. In Italy, the Veneto Region was the first to establish a subsidies scheme aimed at promoting the adoption of NT practices. This program encourages farmers to perform direct seeding, alternate autumn and winter crops and maintain soil cover throughout the year by leaving crop residues or sowing cover crops.The goals of this study were to: (i) compare the CO2 emission and soil C sequestration patterns of agricultural soils under CT and NT management practices in the Veneto region and (ii) analyse the potential mid-term benefits (2010-2025) of NT management in terms of soil organic C dynamics and CO2 balance. Agronomic data and soil organic carbon levels were measured from 2010 to 2014 in eight farms in the Veneto region that had adopted CT and NT techniques. Field measurements were used to calibrate first and then validate the SALUS model to compare the mid-term impact of CT and NT practices using climate projections. SOC carbon pools in the model were initialized using the procedure described in Basso et al., 2011c). This is the first study to employ a model using such an extensive dataset at the farm level to assess the CT and NT strategies within this region.Results of this research will assist farmers and policy makers in the region to define the tillage systems most suited to improve soil C stocks and thereby minimize CO2 emissions from agricultural soils. Overall, simulations indicated that SOC stocks can decrease under both CT and NT regimes, however SOC oxidation rates were substantially lower under NT. Critically, the greatest reduction in CO2 emission was observed when NT was adopted in soil with high levels of SOM. This highlights the benefits of NT adoption in terms of soil fertility preservation and CO2 emissions mitigation.