Main content area

Marginal cost to increase soil organic carbon using no-till on U.S. cropland

Sperow, Mark
Mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change 2019 v.24 no.1 pp. 93-112
Glycine max, Zea mays, business enterprises, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, conventional tillage, corn, cost effectiveness, crop prices, cropland, disturbed soils, global change, greenhouse gas emissions, landowners, no-tillage, risk factors, soil organic carbon, soybeans, United States
Recent global agreements on greenhouse gas emission reductions have reinforced the need to develop cost-effective offset programs that can be implemented to help augment emission reductions. One approach to offset carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions may be to increase soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks by reducing soil disturbance by changing from conventional tillage (CT) to no tillage (NT). In this analysis, the cost to increase SOC sequestration achieved on cropland by changing from CT to NT is estimated. The marginal cost of increasing SOC is determined by the amount SOC can be increased and the difference in profit of changing from conventional to no-till. Landowner costs and profit are derived from crop enterprise budgets, county yield data, and regional crop prices. A risk factor is also used to increase the cost of no-till adoption to account for the apparent reluctance of landowners to adopt no-till. The SOC sequestration potential on corn (Zea mays) and soybean (Glycine max) cropland combined is about 49.1 Tg CO₂ year⁻¹ (1 Tg = 10¹² g) of which 47.6 Tg CO₂ year⁻¹ (nearly 97%) could be attained for less than $20-Mg⁻¹ CO₂ (1 Mg = 10⁶ g). When the risk factor is included in the assessment, over 19.7 Tg CO₂ year⁻¹ could be attained for less than $20-Mg⁻¹ CO₂. The analysis demonstrates that SOC sequestration through changes from CT to NT on corn and soybean land could economically offset a portion of CO₂ emissions.