Agricultural Sequestration

Carbon sequestration occurs in soils and agricultural crops mainly through the natural process of photosynthesis. Half of the agriculture biomass is composed of carbon. When the vegetation decays, the litter and roots also contribute carbon to the soil. When agricultural fields are plowed, CO2 can be released to the atmosphere. The amount of carbon in cropland soils can vary depending on types of crops, types of fertilizers used, and type of management practice (such as conventional or conservation tillage). These variables can also determine the presence of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, which have greater global warming potentials than CO2.

According to the EPA, carbon can be sequestered in agricultural soils for 15 years or longer depending on the soil type and management style. There are several agricultural practices that sequester carbon and also reduce the emissions of other greenhouse gases (such as nitrous oxide and methane). According to the EPA, the following table depicts the methods in which agriculture can sequester carbon.

With changes in grazing methods, land management can sequester carbon for 25 to 50 years. According to Tristram O. West of the Department of Energy (DOE) Center for Carbon Sequestration in Ecosystems (CSITE) at Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee, using reduced tillage

greenhouse gases

Agricultural Practices That sequester Carbon or Reduce the Emissions of other Greenhouse Gases




Conservation or riparian buffers

Grasses or trees planted along streams and croplands to prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff into waterways.

Increases carbon storage through sequestration.

Conservation tillage on croplands

Typically defined as any tillage and planting system in which 30 percent or more of the crop residue remains on the soil after planting. This disturbs the soil less, and therefore allows soil carbon to accumulate. There are different kinds of conservation tillage systems, including no till, ridge till, minimum till, and mulch till.

Increases carbon storage through enhanced soil sequestration, may reduce energy-related CO2 emissions from farm equipment, and could affect N2O positively or negatively.

Grazing land management

Modification to grazing practices that produce beef and dairy products that lead to net greenhouse gas reductions (such as rotational grazing).

Increases carbon storage through enhanced soil sequestration and may affect emissions of CH4 and N2O.

Biofuel substitution

displacement of fossil fuels with biomass (agricultural and forestry wastes, or crops and trees grown for biomass purposes) in energy production, or in the production of energy-intensive products such as steel.

Substitutes carbon for fossil fuel and energy-

intensive products. Burning and growing of biomass can also affect soil N2O emissions.

Source: EPA

Carbon is sequestered in the crops and soil of agricultural areas. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

methods instead of conventional methods can sequester carbon for 15 to 20 years.

A major benefit of agricultural sequestration is that it also positively affects soil, air, water, and therefore, wildlife habitat. When carbon sequestration practices reduce soil erosion and management practices decrease pollution runoff, this all promotes healthy water quality in addition to preventing climate change.

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