Does the adoption of zero tillage reduce greenhouse gas emissions? An assessment for the grains industry in Australia
T.N. Maraseni and G. Cockfield (2011). Agricultural Systems Volume 104, Issue 6, July 2011, Pages 451–458, April 2011
The Australian Government has recommended that farmers move from cultivation-based dryland farming to reduced or zero tillage systems. The private benefits could include improvements in yields and a decrease in costs while the public benefits could include a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to a diminution in the use of heavy machinery. The aim of this study is to estimate and compare total on-farm GHG emissions from conventional and zero tillage systems based on selected grain crop rotations in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, Australia. The value chain was identified, including all inputs, and emissions. In addition, studies of soil carbon sequestration and nitrous oxide emissions under the different cropping systems were reviewed.
The value chain analysis revealed that the net effect on GHG emissions by switching to zero tillage is positive but relatively small. In addition though, the review of the sequestration studies suggests that there might be soil-based emissions that result from zero tillage that are being under-estimated. Therefore, zero tillage may not necessarily reduce overall GHG emissions. This could have major implication on current carbon credits offered from volunteer carbon markets for converting conventional tillage to reduced tillage system.