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Soil Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Response to Corn Stover Removal and Tillage Management Across the US Corn Belt

Virginia L. Jin, John M. Baker, Jane M.-F. Johnson, Douglas L. Karlen, R. Michael Lehman, Shannon L. Osborne, Thomas J. Sauer, Diane E. Stott, Gary E. Varvel, Rodney T. Venterea, Marty R. Schmer, Brian J. Wienhold
Bioenergy research 2014 v.7 no.2 pp. 517-527
Agricultural Research Service, agricultural soils, carbon dioxide, conservation tillage, corn stover, crop production, economic feasibility, energy efficiency, environmental factors, environmental management, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, greenhouse soils, growing season, methane, microclimate, nitrous oxide, production technology, surveys, Corn Belt region, United States
In-field measurements of direct soil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions provide critical data for quantifying the net energy efficiency and economic feasibility of crop residue-based bioenergy production systems. A major challenge to such assessments has been the paucity of field studies addressing the effects of crop residue removal and associated best practices for soil management (i.e., conservation tillage) on soil emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). This regional survey summarizes soil GHG emissions from nine maize production systems evaluating different levels of corn stover removal under conventional or conservation tillage management across the US Corn Belt. Cumulative growing season soil emissions of CO2, N2O, and/or CH4 were measured for 2–5 years (2008–2012) at these various sites using a standardized static vented chamber technique as part of the USDA-ARS’s Resilient Economic Agricultural Practices (REAP) regional partnership. Cumulative soil GHG emissions during the growing season varied widely across sites, by management, and by year. Overall, corn stover removal decreased soil total CO2 and N2O emissions by -4 and -7 %, respectively, relative to no removal. No management treatments affected soil CH4 fluxes. When aggregated to total GHG emissions (Mg CO2 eq ha−1) across all sites and years, corn stover removal decreased growing season soil emissions by −5 ± 1 % (mean ± se) and ranged from -36 % to 54 % (n = 50). Lower GHG emissions in stover removal treatments were attributed to decreased C and N inputs into soils, as well as possible microclimatic differences associated with changes in soil cover. High levels of spatial and temporal variabilities in direct GHG emissions highlighted the importance of site-specific management and environmental conditions on the dynamics of GHG emissions from agricultural soils.