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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Economic Tradeoffs of Carbon Sequestration Resulting from Alternative Cropping Systems

Authors
item Helmers, Glenn - AG ECON/UNIV OF NE/LNK NE
item Varvel, Gary

Submitted to: American Agricultural Economics Association Meeting
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: May 30, 2000
Publication Date: July 1, 2000
Citation: HELMERS, G.A., VARVEL, G.E. SELECTED PAPER. ECONOMIC TRADEOFFS OF CARBON SEQUESTRATION RESULTING FROM ALTERNATIVE CROPPING SYSTEMS. AMERICAN AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS ASSOCIATION MEETING. July-August 2000.

Interpretive Summary: Many industries emit considerable carbon and the costs of reducing such emissions as required under the Kyoto treaty are estimated to be very high. One alternative to the reduction of carbon emissions is the "purchase" of carbon reducing "credits". Soil organic matter is a repository for carbon and can be a source of carbon to the atmosphere or a sink where atmospheric carbon is deposited. Improved crop and soil management in agricultural production systems hold potential to improve carbon retention by soil organic matter. In this study the differences in net returns among alternative cropping systems/fertilizer levels of the Midwest and accompanying carbon sequestrations are estimated. Our objective was to use results from a long-term experiment (1984-1998) including cropping system/fertilizer levels to provide estimates of the cost required to sequester greater and greater levels of carbon. Yields and carbon changes for each system are paired with net returns for the respective systems. In this analysis, only the continuous corn (high N), continuous sorghum (medium and high N) and six four-year rotations involving oats/clover with corn, soybean, and sorghum yielded positive carbon storage in the surface 6 inches. The predominant cropping system of the area, a corn/soybean rotation, is not storing carbon. Continuous corn (high N) not only yields positive carbon storage but is estimated to have higher net returns than the corn/soybean rotation. The downside to continuous corn (high N) is its high reliance on chemicals and the potential for negative environmental consequences, resulting in tradeoffs for either situation.

Technical Abstract: The costs of reducing carbon emissions by industry as required under the Kyoto treaty are estimated to be very high. The "purchase" of carbon emission reducing "credits" is considered to be one alternative. Soil organic matter is a repository for carbon and can be a source of carbon to the atmosphere or a sink where atmospheric carbon is deposited. Considerable differences exist among crops and cropping systems with respect to their ability to improve carbon levels in the soil. Our objective was to use results from a long-term experiment (1984-1998) including cropping system/fertilizer levels to provide estimates of the cost required to sequester greater and greater levels of carbon by developing a supply function for the sequestered carbon. For this analyses, yields and carbon changes for each system are paired with net returns for the respective systems. In this analysis, only the continuous corn (high N), continuous sorghum (medium and high N) and six four-year rotations involving oats/clover with corn, soybean, and sorghum yielded positive carbon storage in the surface 6 inches. The predominant cropping system of the area, a corn/soybean rotation, is not storing carbon. Continuous corn (high N) not only yields positive carbon storage but is estimated to have higher net returns than the corn/soybean rotation. The downside to continuous corn (high N) is its high reliance on chemicals and the potential for negative environmental consequences. Cash return penalties accompany those systems involving oats/clover that store carbon at significant levels, resulting in tradeoffs for either situation.

Last Modified: 9/22/2014
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