Low risk management intervention: limited impact of remedial tillage on net ecosystem carbon balance at a commercial Miscanthus plantation

Rowe, R.L. ORCID:; Cooper, H.M. ORCID:; Hastings, A.; Mabey, A.; Keith, A.M.; McNamara, N.P.; Morrison, R. ORCID: 2024 Low risk management intervention: limited impact of remedial tillage on net ecosystem carbon balance at a commercial Miscanthus plantation. GCB Bioenergy, 16 (1), e13114. 17, pp.

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Perennial bioenergy crops are a key tool in decarbonizing global energy systems, but to ensure the efficient use of land resources, it is essential that yields and crop longevity are maximized. Remedial shallow surface tillage is being explored in commercial Miscanthus plantations as an approach to reinvigorate older crops and to rectify poor establishment, improving yields. There are posited links, however, between tillage and losses in soil carbon (C) via increased ecosystem C fluxes to the atmosphere. As Miscanthus is utilized as an energy crop, changes in field C fluxes need to be assessed as part of the C balance of the crop. Here, for the first time, we quantify the C impacts of remedial tillage at a mature commercial Miscanthus plantation in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom. Net ecosystem C production based on eddy covariance flux observations and exported yield totalled 12.16 Mg C ha−1 over the 4.6 year period after tillage, showing the site functioned as a net sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). There was no indication of negative tillage induced impacts on soil C stocks, with no difference 3 years post tillage in the surface (0–30 cm) or deep (0–70 cm) soil C stocks between the tilled Miscanthus field and an adjacent paired untilled Miscanthus field. Comparison to historic samples showed surface soil C stocks increased by 11.16 ± 3.91 Mg C ha−1 between pre (October 2011) and post tillage sampling (November 2016). Within the period of the study, however, the tillage did not result in the increased yields necessary to “pay back” the tillage induced yield loss. Rather the crop was effectively re-established, with progressive yield increases over the study period, mirroring expectations of newly planted sites. The overall impacts of remedial tillage will depend therefore, on the longer-term impacts on crop longevity and yields.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hydro-climate Risks (Science Area 2017-)
Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1757-1693
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: crop management, eddy covariance, Miscanthus, soil carbon
NORA Subject Terms: Agriculture and Soil Science
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Date made live: 18 Dec 2023 15:10 +0 (UTC)

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