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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Agricultural Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #364104

Research Project: Ecologically-Sound Pest, Water and Soil Management Practices for Northern Great Plains Cropping Systems

Location: Agricultural Systems Research

Title: Cover crop effects on soil carbon dioxide emissions in a semiarid cropping system

item NILAHYANE, ABDELAZIZ - New Mexico State University
item GHIMIRE, RAJAN - New Mexico State University
item THAPA, VESH - New Mexico State University
item Sainju, Upendra

Submitted to: Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/27/2019
Publication Date: 3/5/2020
Publication URL:
Citation: Nilahyane, A., Ghimire, R., Thapa, V.R., Sainju, U.M. 2020. Cover crop effects on soil carbon dioxide emissions in a semiarid cropping system. Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment. 3(1).

Interpretive Summary: Planting cover crops can improve soil health and provides numerous agronomic and environmental benefits. More farmers are adopting cover cropping practices but more information is needed about the impact of different cover crop species, grown alone or in multi-species mixes, on carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. Researchers at ARS, Sidney, MT in collaboration with New Mexico State University reported that cover crops increased carbon dioxide emissions compared to fallow. They explained that carbon dioxide emissions from fallow land are lower because there are no living plants in fallow land. In fields where plants are growing, 30 to 50% of carbon dioxide emissions come from living plant roots. Of the cover crop options evaluated by the researchers, a mixture of pea and oat provided the best combination of low carbon dioxide emissions and high soil carbon storage. Producers can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by using a cover crop mixture comprised of pea and oat.

Technical Abstract: Management practices that increase soil organic C (SOC) while reducing CO2 emissions have potential to improve soil and environmental quality. This study evaluated the effect of cover crop on soil CO2 fluxes from 2017 to 2018 in a semiarid environment in New Mexico. Cover crop treatments included fallow, pea, oat, canola, pea + oat (PO), pea + canola (PC), pea + oat + canola (POC), and POC + hairy vetch + forage radish + barley (SSM). Cover crops increased CO2 fluxes compared to fallow. Pea increased CO2 flux from 46 to 70% compared to fallow, canola, and PO, respectively, in 2017, but cover crop did not affect CO2 flux in 2018. Although the flux was higher than fallow, PO reduced CO2 emissions compared to other cover crops during wet years.