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Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions Affected by Sheep Grazing in Dryland Cropping Systems

Joy L. Barsotti, Upendra M. Sainju, Andrew W. Lenssen, Clifford Montagne, Patrick G. Hatfield
Soil Science Society of America journal 2013 v.77 no.3 pp. 1012-1025
Hordeum, Medicago sativa, Pisum sativum, Triticum, alfalfa, arid lands, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, continuous cropping, control methods, crop residues, cropping sequence, fallow, fermentation, global warming, grazing, greenhouse effect, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, methane, methane production, nitrogen fertilizers, nitrous oxide, pesticide application, sheep, silt, soil, spring, spring wheat, weed control, Montana
Sheep (Ovis aries L.) grazing is an inexpensive method of weed control in dryland cropping systems, but little is known about its effect on net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We evaluated the effect of sheep grazing compared with herbicide application for weed control on GHG (CO₂, N₂O, and CH₄) emissions from May to October 2010 and 2011, net global warming potential (GWP), and greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI) in a silt loam under dryland cropping systems in western Montana. Treatments were two fallow management practices (sheep grazing [GRAZ] and herbicide application [CHEM]) and three cropping sequences (continuous alfalfa [Medicago sativa L.] [CA], continuous spring wheat [Triticum aestivum L.] [CSW], and spring wheat–pea [Pisum sativum L.]/barley [Hordeum vulgaris L.] hay–fallow [W-P/B-F]). Gas fluxes were measured at 3- to 14-d intervals with a vented, static chamber. Regardless of treatments, GHG fluxes peaked immediately following substantial precipitation (>12 mm) and N fertilization mostly from May to August. Total CO₂ flux from May to October was greater under GRAZ with CA, but total N₂O flux was greater under CHEM and GRAZ with CSW than other treatments. Total CH₄ flux was greater with CA than W-P/B-F. Net GWP and GHGI were greater under GRAZ with W-P/B-F than most other treatments. Greater CH₄ flux due to increased enteric fermentation as a result of longer duration of grazing during fallow, followed by reduced crop residue returned to the soil and/or C sequestration rate probably increased net GHG flux under GRAZ with W-P/B-F. Sheep grazing on a cropping sequence containing fallow may not reduce net GHG emissions compared with herbicide application for weed control on continuous crops.