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Medium-term effect of perennial energy crops on soil organic carbon storage

Author(s): Enrico Ceotto | Mario Di Candilo

Journal: Italian Journal of Agronomy
ISSN 1125-4718

Volume: 6;
Issue: 4;
Start page: e33;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: soil organic carbon sequestration | energy crops | herbaceous perennial | woody species

The scope of this study was to evaluate the effect of perennial energy crops on soil organic carbon (SOC) storage. A field experiment was undertaken in 2002 at Anzola dell’Emilia in the lower Po Valley, Northern Italy. Five perennial energy crops were established on a land area which had been previously cultivated with arable crops for at least 20 years. The compared crops are: the herbaceous perennials giant reed and miscanthus, and the woody species poplar, willow and black locust, managed as short rotation coppice (SRC). SOC was measured in 2009, seven years after the start of the experiment, on an upper soil layer of 0.0-0.2 m and a lower soil layer of 0.2-0.4 m. The study aimed to compare the SOC storage of energy crops with alternative land use. Therefore, two adjacent areas were sampled in the same soil layers: i) arable land in steady state, cultivated with rainfed annual crops; ii) natural meadow established at the start of the experiment. The conversion of arable land into perennial energy crops resulted in SOC storage, in the upper soil layer (0.0-0.2 m) ranging from 1150 to 1950 kg C ha-1 year-1 during the 7-year period. No significant differences were detected in SOC among crop species. We found no relationship between the harvested dry matter and the SOC storage. The conversion of arable land into perennial energy crops provides a substantial SOC sequestration benefit even when the hidden C cost of N industrial fertilizers is taken into account. While the SOC increased, the total N content in the soil remained fairly constant. This is probably due to the low rate of nitrogen applied to the perennial crops. However, our data are preliminary and the number of years in which the SOC continues to increase needs to be quantified, especially for the herbaceous species giant reed and miscanthus, with a supposedly long duration of the useful cropping cycle of 20 years or longer.
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