Conservation tillage for carbon sequestration
- Cite this article as:
- Lal, R. & Kimble, J. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems (1997) 49: 243. doi:10.1023/A:1009794514742
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World soils represent the largest terrestrial pool of organic carbon (C), about 1550 Pg compared with about 700 Pg in the atmosphere and 600 Pg in land biota. Agricultural activities (e.g., deforestation, burning, plowing, intensive grazing) contribute considerably to the atmospheric pool. Expansion of agriculture may have contributed substantially to the atmospheric carbon pool. However, the exact magnitude of carbon fluxes from soil to the atmosphere and from land biota to the soil are not known. An important objective of the sustainable management of soil resources is to increase soil organic carbon (SOC) pool by increasing passive or non-labile fraction. Soil surface management, soil water conservation and management, and soil fertility regulation are all important aspects of carbon sequestration in soil. Conservation tillage, a generic term implying all tillage methods that reduce runoff and soil erosion in comparison with plow-based tillage, is known to increase SOC content of the surface layer. Principal mechanisms of carbon sequestration with conservation tillage are increase in micro-aggregation and deep placement of SOC in the sub-soil horizons. Other useful agricultural practices associated with conservation tillage are those that increase biomass production (e.g., soil fertility enhancement, improved crops and species, cover crops and fallowing, improved pastures and deep-rooted crops). It is also relevant to adopt soil and crop management systems that accentuate humification and increase the passive fraction of SOC. Because of the importance of C sequestration, soil quality should be evaluated in terms of its SOC content.