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  • Current and emerging methodologies for estimating carbon sequestration in agricultural soils: A review

    This review covers the current and emerging analytical methods used in laboratory, field, landscape and regional contexts for measuring soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration in agricultural soil. Soil depth plays an important role in estimating SOC sequestration. Selecting appropriate sampling design, depth of soil, use of proper analytical methods and base line selection are prerequisites for estimating accurately the soil carbon stocks. Traditional methods of wet digestion and dry combustion (DC) are extensively used for routine laboratory analysis; the latter is considered to be the “gold standard” and superior to the former for routine laboratory analysis. Recent spectroscopic techniques can measure SOC stocks in laboratory and in-situ even up to a deeper depth. Aerial spectroscopy using multispectral and/or hyperspectral sensors located on aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or satellite platforms can measure surface soil organic carbon. Although these techniques' current precision is low, the next generation hyperspectral sensor with improved signal noise ratio will further improve the accuracy of prediction. At the ecosystem level, carbon balance can be estimated directly using the eddy-covariance approach and indirectly by employing agricultural life cycle analysis (LCA). These methods have tremendous potential for estimating SOC. Irrespective of old or new approaches, depending on the resources and research needed, they occupy a unique place in soil carbon and climate research. This paper highlights the overview, potential limitations of various scale-dependent techniques for measuring SOC sequestration in agricultural soil.
  • Nutrients cause consolidation of soil carbon flux to small proportion of bacterial community

    Nutrient amendment diminished bacterial functional diversity, consolidating carbon flow through fewer bacterial taxa. Here, we show strong differences in the bacterial taxa responsible for respiration from four ecosystems, indicating the potential for taxon-specific control over soil carbon cycling. Trends in functional diversity, defined as the richness of bacteria contributing to carbon flux and their equitability of carbon use, paralleled trends in taxonomic diversity although functional diversity was lower overall. Among genera common to all ecosystems, Bradyrhizobium, the Acidobacteria genus RB41, and Streptomyces together composed 45–57% of carbon flow through bacterial productivity and respiration. Bacteria that utilized the most carbon amendment (glucose) were also those that utilized the most native soil carbon, suggesting that the behavior of key soil taxa may influence carbon balance. Mapping carbon flow through different microbial taxa as demonstrated here is crucial in developing taxon-sensitive soil carbon models that may reduce the uncertainty in climate change projections.
  • Biomass flows in an agro-pastoral village in West-Africa: Who benefits from crop residue mulching?

    In West Africa, new management practices such as conservation agriculture with crop residue mulching can improve crop yields for individual farmers. However, in a context of complex social interactions between farmers, the introduction of such practices can also lead to conflicts between private interests and communal use of resources, for example the free grazing of crop residues. The objective of this paper was to assess ex-ante the impacts of the practice of crop residue mulching on crop productivity in a village of central Burkina Faso using an agent-based model, AMBAWA, that simulates the flows of biomass and nutrients between crop and livestock systems at the village scale. The model considers the interactions between four types of farmers that were identified in the study site: subsistence-oriented crop farmers, market-oriented crop farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists. The model simulated increased cattle migration outside the village due to increased crop res­ idue scarcity during the dry season with increased proportions of cropland under the practice of conservation agriculture, decreasing the manure availability at village scale. Consequently, the assumed direct yield increases due to soil moisture conservation as a result of mulching did not compensate for the yield losses resulting from lesser amounts of manure available. This effect was felt most strongly by farmers who own relatively large numbers of cattle (agro-pastoralists and pastoralists). The total maize production at village level depended more on the proportion of cropping land that was available for grazing by cattle, and thus not mulched, than on a possible direct effect of mulching on yield per se. The AMBAWA model can support discussion among stake­ holders (farmers, traditional and administrative authorities) who are involved in the private and communal management of crop residues and other biomass resources, in order to co-design effective arrangements and practices for their sustainable use.
  • Impact de différentes politiques publiques sur l'intensification agroécologique et les inégalités de revenu dans le Bassin arachidier du Sénégal

    Ce papier analyse l’impact de différentes politiques publiques sur l'intensification écologique et les inégalités de revenu dans le Bassin arachidier du Sénégal, principale région d’agriculture pluviale du pays. Il s’appuie sur un modèle bioéconomique simulant dans le détail la situation des différents types de ménages agricoles. L’évaluation multicritère d’itinéraires techniques basés sur la gestion intégrée de la fertilité indique que l’intensification écologique est possible avec un usage raisonné des fertilisants minéraux. Les caractéristiques du climat et des sols, le paysage de parc agroforestier et la pratique d’une rotation céréale-légumineuse sont des atouts majeurs contre les risques environnementaux de l’intensification. Les réponses des exploitations simulées aux scénarios politiques testés sont très variables selon le type d’exploitation et la zone agroécologique : dans le nord du bassin, l’aridité limite trop l’efficience de la fertilisation pour qu’il soit pertinent d’intensifier les céréales et il est plus légitime de soutenir la filière arachide, voire de développer les filières d’autres légumineuses à cycle plus court (niébé).
  • Crops for increasing soil organic carbon stocks – A global meta analysis

    Quantifying the ability of plants to store atmospheric inorganic carbon (C) in their biomass and ultimately in the soil as organic C for long duration is crucial for climate change mitigation and soil fertility improvement. While many independent studies have been performed on the transfer of atmospheric C to soils for single crop types, the objective of this study was to compare the ability of crops, which are most commonly found worldwide, to transfer C to soils, and the associated controlling factors. We performed a meta-analysis of 227 research trials, which had reported C fluxes from plant to soil for different crops. On average, crops assimilated 4.5 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 from the atmosphere with values between 1.7 Mg C ha−1 yr−1, for barley (Hordeum vulgare) and 5.2 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 for maize (Zea mays). Sixty-one percent (61%) of the assimilated C was allocated to shoots, 20% to roots, 7% to soils while 12% was respired back into the atmosphere as autotrophic respiration by plants. Maize and ryegrass (Lolium perenne) had the greatest allocation to the soil (1.0 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 or 19% total assimilation), followed by wheat (Triticum aestivum). 0.8 Mg C ha−1 yr−1, 23%) and rice (Oryza Sativa, 0.7 Mg C ha−1 yr−1, 20%). Carbon allocation to the soil positively correlated to C allocation to roots (r = 0.33, P < 0.05), while correlations between shoot and root biomass on the one hand and C allocation to shoots on the other hand were not significant. The question on the long-term stability of the C transferred to soils remains unanswered.
  • Effect of the intensification of cropping sequences on soil organic carbon and its stratification ratio in contrasting environments

    In environments where continuous agriculture leads to soil organic carbon (SOC) depletion, intensification practices (i.e. polyculture, cover crops (CC), and crop fertilization) have been suggested as strategies to improve crop residue inputs which, in turn, can increase SOC storage. However, SOC dynamics are regulated by a complex interplay of climatic and soil conditions. The objective of our study was to assess how intensification practices affect SOC, particulate organic carbon (POC) and SOC stratification ratio (SRSOC) as compared to soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] monoculture, in soils with contrasting soil properties and climate. The experiment was carried out in four long term experiments (>10 yr) located in areas with contrasting environments. The surface soil textures ranged from sandy-loam to silty-clay and clay-loam, initial SOC (0–20 cm) from 34.5 to 67.8 Mg ha−1, mean air temperature: 14.0–18.9 °C, annual precipitation: 719.8–886.1 mm. Five treatments were evaluated: soybean monoculture (SB), soybean monoculture fertilized with phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S) (SBPS), CC/PS-fertilized soybean (SBPS/CC), nitrogen (N)-fertilized CC/PS-fertilized soybean (SBPS/CCN) and NPS-fertilized crop rotation (ROTNPS). Intensification of crop sequences (SBPS/CC, SBPS/CCN and/or ROTNPS) increased SOC and POC at 0–5 cm and in SRSOC in most sites as compared to SB. All treatments showed SOC depletion as compared to the beginning of the experiment. However, the magnitude of SOC lost during 10 years was 26–65% lower when intensified crop sequences were applied as compared with SB. Carbon input and environment characteristics influenced the impact of intensification practices on the analyzed variables. However, this effect was mostly associated with the ratio between SOC at the beginning of the experiment and the SOC of pristine soil (degradation status). The intensification practices evaluated were not sufficient to reverse the tendency of agricultural soils to lose SOC, but they slowed the rate of this degradation process.
  • Modeling soil organic carbon and yam yield under different agronomic management across spatial scales in Ghana

    Yam, a major food crop for West Africa, has not been managed to reach its potential productivity. The current practice of planting yam continuously for years after clear-cutting a field is not sustainable and has led to deforestation and nutrient depletion. By examining the effect of improved management on yam cultivation in Ghana, this study aimed to solve the tradeoff between improving yam yield and sustaining soil organic carbon (SOC). We used a calibrated and validated process-based crop simulation model, Systems Approach to Land Use Sustainability, to assess the impact of four management treatments: continuous unfertilized rainfed yam (control), pigeonpea-yam rotation, yam with 3 Mg/ha pigeonpea residue incorporated and yam with 23−23 N-P2O5 kg/ha fertilizer added. We modeled 10 years of yam yield and SOC across cropland in Ghana with varying levels of soil carbon, rainfall amount, and precipitation pattern. On average, simulated yam tuber yield was the highest with a pigeonpea residue incorporation treatment (4.1–11.9 Mg/ha, average of 7.5 Mg/ha). The rotation (average yield of 6.4 Mg/ha) and fertilizer (average of 7.0 Mg/ha) treatments produced comparable increases in yam yield over the control treatment (1.9–9.2 Mg/ha, average of 4.9 Mg/ha). The low yam yield of the control treatment was mostly attributed to nutrient deficiency (nitrogen and phosphorus). Drought also limited yam growth, particularly in northern Ghana. The three improved management treatments increased soil nutrient availability and thus improved yield. SOC declined under all four tested treatments over the simulated 10 years, but declined least with residue incorporation (average rate -0.3 Mg/ha/year), followed by fertilizer addition (-0.43 Mg/ha/year), rotation (-0.42 Mg/ha/year), and the control (-0.51 Mg/ha/year) management. Our work provides a benchmark for yam yield response to alternative management across Ghana, and highlights pigeonpea’s contribution to sustainable intensification of yam. Further research is needed to untangle the interacting effects of land use and agronomic management on SOC.
  • Short and long-term impact of urban gardening on soil organic carbon fractions in Lixisols (Burkina Faso)

    In sub-Saharan Africa, market gardening relies on the intensive use of organic amendments, but little is known about the impact of these practices on soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics. Recent studies have demonstrated that a better understanding of carbon dynamics can be achieved by considering different carbon pools. Here we used a simple method of physical SOC fractionation to assess the impact of market gardening practices on the evolution of total SOC and its stable and labile sub-fractions over a period of several decades. The study was conducted at the Kuinima market gardening zone in Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso). Composite soil samples (0-15 cm depth) were collected from a chronosequence of 69 fields including control plots and plots farmed for more than 50 years. Samples were wet sieved at 20 mu m after agitation or sonication to assess carbon content in the fine (i.e. stable) and coarse fractions. Our results show an asymptotic increase in total carbon content, from 9 g C kg(-1) for uncultivated control plots to 28 g C kg(-1) for plots cultivated for more than 50 years. This increase tends to stabilize after 30 years. A similar trend is observed for C content in the coarse fraction > 20 mu m. In contrast, carbon content in the fraction < 20 mu m increased linearly over time, and this increase was greater in sonicated than in agitated samples. Based on the comparison of the two fractionation methods, a strong contribution of micro-aggregation to the physical stabilization of SOC was hypothesized. This stabilization appears favored by short-range-order (SRO) iron and aluminum oxides and/or metal-humus complexes, as suggested by the strong correlation between stable C content and oxalate-extractable Fe and Al. Large and repeated additions of organic amendments in market gardening thus appear to lead to increased SOC content and promote SOC storage in the stable fraction, thereby contributing to soil quality improvement and the mitigation of climate change.
  • Soil organic carbon is affected by organic amendments, conservation tillage, and cover cropping in organic farming systems: A meta-analysis

    Meta-analysis is often used to compare how soil health differs between organic and conventional farming systems. However, the burgeoning primary literature on organic farming now allows direct evaluation of the best management practices (BMPs) within organic farming systems on soil health improvements. Therefore, the main objective of this meta-analysis was to investigate the effect of BMPs, such as organic amendments, conservation tillage, and cover cropping, on soil health within organic farming systems. We focused on two principal soil health metrics: soil organic carbon (SOC) and microbial biomass carbon (MBC) concentrations. On average, adoption of BMPs increased depth-weighted SOC and MBC concentrations by 18 and 30 %, respectively, relative to organically-managed control groups. Among BMPs, organic amendments and conservation tillage practices showed net positive effect on soil health with 24 and 14 % increase in depth-weighted SOC concentrations, respectively. Although cover cropping did not have an overall influence on SOC concentrations, we found a temporal trend such that cover cropping significantly increased SOC concentrations after 5 years of its adoption. This indicates that the soil health benefits from BMPs accrue over time and highlights the need of long-term adoptability of BMPs to achieve agricultural sustainability. Future primary articles that focus on under-researched cropping practices in organic systems (e.g., crop rotation length and diversity, biochar addition) and the additive effects of multiple BMPs on soil health, will add to the synthesizable evidence base. Therefore, this meta-analysis confirms the soil health benefits of adopting BMPs within organic farming systems, identifies critical knowledge gaps, and provides directions for future organic farming research.
  • Soil organic carbon stocks maintained despite intensification of shifting cultivation

    Shifting cultivation systems of Southeast Asia are rapidly intensifying, especially through shortening of the fallow periods. It is typically assumed that intensification will result in a depletion of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks, but existing estimates of carbon stocks in these systems are variable, and there is little certainty about the carbon outcomes of intensification. We investigated the effects of intensification on SOC stocks of a shifting cultivation system in northern Laos. Volume-specific soil samples were collected from 20 sites representing: i) various rotation intensities (fallow periods of 3–4 years and 7–10 years), ii) various stages of the rotation cycle (fallows and active fields) and iii) reference plots (old regrowth of 25–30 years). Samples were analyzed for SOC, soil texture, pH, Total Nitrogen and permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC) – an active carbon fraction that has been suggested as an easily measured early indicator of land use induced changes in soil quality and SOC. There were no significant differences between SOC concentrations or stocks of any of the sites under shifting cultivation and the reference sites. However, the SOC stock under fallows in the intensive rotation category was significantly larger than the SOC stock under fallows in the extensive rotation category. This is likely because inputs of dead root biomass from the slashed vegetation provides an important input to the SOC pool. Fallow sites under intensive rotation had significantly higher contents of POXC in the topsoil than the active fields, which suggests that POXC captures the immediate effect of the decreased input of litter to the topsoil during the cultivation period. We conclude that in this study there is no evidence that intensification of shifting cultivation leads to a decline in total soil carbon stock, or to a decline in the more active carbon fraction measured by POXC. Therefore, narratives of shifting cultivation leading to a decline in soil carbon stocks need to be revisited, and land use policies related to the system should not uncritically be based on this incorrect assumption.
  • Grand challenges for the 21st century: what crop models can and can't (yet) do

    Crop production is at the core of a ‘perfect storm’ encompassing the grand challenges of achieving food and nutrition security for all, in the face of climate change, while avoiding further conversion of natural habitats for agriculture and loss of biodiversity. Here, we explore current trends in crop modelling related to these grand challenges by reflecting on research presented at the Second International Crop Modelling Symposium (iCropM2020). A keyword search in the book of abstracts of the symposium revealed a strong focus on ‘climate change’, ‘adaptation’ and ‘impact assessment’ and much less on ‘food security’ or ‘policy’. Most research focused on field-level investigations and far fewer on farm(ing) systems levels – the levels at which management decisions are made by farmers. Experimentation is key to development and testing of crop models, yet the term ‘simulation’ outweighed by far the terms ‘experiments’ and ‘trials’, and few contributions dealt with model improvement. Cereals are intensively researched, whereas roots, tubers and tropical perennials are under-researched. Little attention is paid to nutrient limitations apart from nitrogen or to pests and diseases. The aforementioned aspects represent opportunities for future research where crop models can help in devising hypotheses and driving new experimentation. We must also ensure that crop models are fit for their intended purposes, especially if they are to provide advice to policymakers. The latter, together with cross-scale and interdisciplinary efforts with direct engagement of stakeholders are needed to address the grand challenges faced by food and agricultural systems in the next century.