Carbon footprint of spring barley in relation to preceding oilseeds and N fertilization

  • Yantai GanEmail author
  • Chang Liang
  • William May
  • Sukhdev S. Malhi
  • Junyi Niu
  • Xiaoyu Wang



Carbon footprint of field crops can be lowered through improved cropping practices. The objective of this study was to determine the carbon footprint of spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) in relation to various preceding oilseed crops that were fertilized at various rates of inorganic N the previous years. System boundary was from cradle-to-farm gate.

Materials and methods

Canola-quality mustard (Brassica juncea L.), canola (Brassica napus L.), sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.), and flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) were grown under the N fertilizer rates of 10, 30, 70, 90, 110, 150, and 200 kg N ha−1 the previous year, and spring barley was grown on the field of standing oilseed stubble the following year. The study was conducted at six environmental sites; they were at Indian Head in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and at Swift Current in 2004, 2005 and 2006, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Results and discussion

On average, barley grown at humid Indian Head emitted greenhouse gases (GHGs) of 1,003 kg CO2eq ha−1, or 53% greater than that at the drier Swift Current site. Production and delivery of fertilizer N to farm gate accounted for 26% of the total GHG emissions, followed by direct and indirect emissions of 28% due to the application of N fertilizers to barley crop. Emissions due to N fertilization were 26.6 times the emission from the use of phosphorous, 5.2 times the emission from pesticides, and 4.2 times the emission from various farming operations. Decomposition of crop residues contributed emissions of 173 kg CO2eq ha−1, or 19% of the total emission. Indian Head-produced barley had significantly greater grain yield, resulting in about 11% lower carbon footprint than Swift Current-produced barley (0.28 vs. 0.32 kg CO2eq kg−1 of grain). Emissions in the barley production was a linear function of the rate of fertilizer N applied to the previous oilseed crops due to increased emissions from crop residue decomposition coupled with higher residual soil mineral N.


The key to lower the carbon footprint of barley is to increase grain yield, make a wise choice of crop types, reduce N inputs to crops grown in the previous and current growing seasons, and improved N use efficiency.


Carbon footprint Life cycle assessment N use efficiency No-till practices 



We gratefully acknowledge the excellent technical assistance provided by Cal McDonald, Lee Poppy, and Ray Leshures at Swift Current and Roger Geremia, Orla Willoughby, and Randy Shiplackand at Indian Head for conducting the field experiments, and the funding provided by Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission and the Matching Investment Initiative of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. We also thank Mr. Dirk Anderson for providing annual estimates of the growing season potential evapotranspiration rates for the experimental sites.


  1. Angadi SV, Entz MH (2002) Agronomic performance of different stature sunflower cultivars under different levels of interplant competition. Can J Plant Sci 82:43–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brandt SA, Malhi SS, Ulrich D, Lafond GP, Kutcher HR, Johnston AM (2007) Seeding rate, fertilizer level and disease management effects on hybrid versus open pollinated canola (Brassica napus L). Can J Plant Sci 87:255–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. BSI and Carbon Trust (2011) Specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services. Publicly available specification - PAS 2050:2011. ISBN 978 0 580 71382 8. London, UK. pp 36Google Scholar
  4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2006 (2006) IPCC Guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories vol 4. Agriculture, forestry and other land use, intergovernmental panel on climate change, Paris, France Accessed Apr 20 2011
  5. Cutforth H, McConkey B, Brandt S, Gan Y, Lafond G, Angadi S, Judiesch D (2009) Fertilizer N response and canola yield in the semiarid Canadian prairies. Can J Plant Sci 89:501–503CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dyer JA, Vergé XPC, Desjardins RL, Worth DE, McConkey BG (2010) The impact of increased biodiesel production on the greenhouse gas emissions from field crops in Canada. Ener Sust Dev 14:73–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Flynn HC, Smith J, Smith KA, Wright J, Smith P, Massheder J (2005) Climate- and crop-responsive emission factors significantly alter estimates of current and future nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use. Glob Chang Biol 11:1522–1536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Forster P, Ramaswamy V, Artaxo P, Berntsen T, Betts R, Fahey DW, Haywood J, Lean J, Lowe DC, Myhre G (2007) Changes in atmospheric constituents and in radiative forcing. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 129–234Google Scholar
  9. Gan YT, Campbell CA, Jansen HH, Lemke R, Liu LP, Basnyat P, McDonald CL (2009) Carbon input to soil by oilseed and pulse crops in semiarid environment. Agric Ecosyst Environ 132:290–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gan YT, Kutcher R, Menalled F, Lafond L, Brandt S (2010) Crop diversification and intensification with broadleaf crops in cereal-based cropping systems in the Northern Great Plains of North America. In: Malhi SS, Gan YT, Schoenau JJ, Lemke RL, Liebig MA (eds) Recent trends in soil science and agronomy research in the Northern Great Plains of North America. Research Signpost, Kerala, p 427Google Scholar
  11. Gan Y, Liang BC, Hamel C, Cutforth H, Wang H (2011a) Strategies for reducing the carbon footprint of field crops for semiarid areas. A review. Agron Sust Dev 31(4):643–656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gan Y, Liang L, Huang G, Malhi SS, Brandt SA, Katepa-Mupondwa F (2011b) Carbon footprint of canola and mustard is a function of the rate of N fertilizer. Int J Life Cycle Assess 17(1):58–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gan YT, Liang BC, Wang XY, McConkey BG (2011c) Lowering carbon footprint of durum wheat through diversifying cropping systems. Field Crops Res 122:199–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gregorich EG, Rochette P, VandenBygaart AJ, Angers DA (2005) Greenhouse gas contributions of agricultural soils and potential mitigation practices in eastern Canada. Soil Till Res 76:1–20Google Scholar
  15. Janzen HH, Angers DA, Boehm M (2006) A proposed approach to estimate and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from whole farms. Can J Soil Sci 86:401–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Karamanos RE, Goh TB, Flaten DN (2007) Nitrogen and sulphur fertilizer management for growing canola on sulphur sufficient soils. Can J Plant Sci 86:201–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Karamanos R, McKenzie RH, Gan YT, Lafond GP, Jones CA, Malhi SS (2010) Fertilizer management for maximum yield of common crops in the Northern Great Plains of North America. pp 33–72. In: Malhi SS, Gan YT, Schoenau JJ, Lemke RL, Liebig MA (eds) Recent trends in soil science and agronomy research in the Northern Great Plains of North America. Research Signpost, Kerala, p 427Google Scholar
  18. Krupinsky JM, Bailey KL, McMullen MP, Gossen BD, Turkington TK (2002) Managing plant diseases risk in diversified cropping systems. Agron J 94:198–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lal R (2004) Carbon emission from farm operations. Environ Int 30:981–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Liebig MA, Tanaka DL, Krupinsky JM, Merrill SD, Hanson JD (2007) Dynamic cropping systems: Contributions to improve agroecosystem sustainability. Agron J 99:899–903Google Scholar
  21. Littell RC, Milliken GA, Stroup WW, Wolfinger RD (1996) SAS System for mixed models. SAS Institute, CaryGoogle Scholar
  22. Malhi SS, Brandt SA, Ulrich D, Lafond GP, Johnston AM (2007) Comparative nitrogen response and economic evaluation for optimum yield of hybrid and open pollinated canola. Can J Plant Sci 87:449–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. May WE, Brandt SA, Gan YT, Kutcher HR, Holzapfel CB, Lafond GP (2010) Adaptation of oilseed crops across Saskatchewan. Can J Plant Sci 90:667–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Merrill SD, Tanaka DL, Krupinsky JM, Liebig MA, Hanson JD (2007) Soil water depletion and recharge under ten crop species and applications to the principles of dynamic cropping systems. Agron J 99:931–938Google Scholar
  25. O’Donovan JT, McAndrew DW, Thomas AG (1997) Tillage and nitrogen influence weed populations dynamics in barley (Hordeum vulgare L). Weed Technol 11:502–509Google Scholar
  26. Osborne B, Saunders M, Walmsley D, Jones M, Smith P (2010) Key questions and uncertainties associated with the assessment of the cropland greenhouse gas balance. Agric Ecosyst Environ 139:293–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rochette P, Worth DE, Lemke RL, McConkey BG, Pennock DJ, Wagner-Riddle C, Desjardins RL (2008) Estimation of N2O emissions from agricultural soils in Canada: I–Development of a country-specific methodology. Can J Soil Sci 88:641–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. van Groenigen JW, Velthof GL, Oenema O, van Groenigen KJ, van Kessel C (2010) Towards an agronomic assessment of N2O emissions: a case study for arable crops. Eur J Soil Sci 61:903–913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Weinheimer J, Rajan N, Johnson P, Maas S (2010) Carbon footprint: a new farm management consideration in the Southern High Plains. In: Agricultural & Applied Economics Association 2010, AAEA, CAES & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, USA, July 25–27, 2010Google Scholar
  30. Wiedmann T, Minx J, Barrett J, Wackernagel M (2006) Allocating ecological footprints to final consumption categories with input–output analysis. Ecol Econ 56:28–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Zentner RP, Campbell CA, Biederbeck VO, Miller PR, Selles F, Fernandez MR (2001) In search of a sustainable cropping system for the semiarid Canadian prairies. J Sust Agric 18:117–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yantai Gan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Chang Liang
    • 3
  • William May
    • 4
  • Sukhdev S. Malhi
    • 5
  • Junyi Niu
    • 1
  • Xiaoyu Wang
    • 2
  1. 1.Gansu Provincial Key Laboratory for Aridland Crop SciencesGansu Agricultural UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research CentreAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSwift CurrentCanada
  3. 3.Pollutant Inventory and Reporting DivisionEnvironment CanadaGatineauCanada
  4. 4.Indian Head Research FarmAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaIndian HeadCanada
  5. 5.Melfort Research FarmAgriculture and Agri-Food CanadaMelfortCanada

Personalised recommendations