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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Valuing carbon capture in agricultural production: examples from Sweden

Linderholm, K.; Katterer, T.; Mattsson, J. E.


Agriculture is regarded as a net emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), but sequesters huge amounts of carbon in soils, bioenergy substrates, and food products. The global accounting system for climate impact based on life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology only takes account of costs (emissions), and not income (carbon and energy binding), leading to the conclusion that agricultural activities should decrease to mitigate climate change. This study considered an alternative accounting system, carbon capture LCA (CC-LCA), that allocates value to carbon sequestration in agricultural products. For two case farms in Sweden (arable, dairy), CC-LCA was applied to (1) calculate the carbon footprint of agricultural production by accounting for net GHG emissions from farm production, rather than gross emissions only, and (2) assess the net impact of mineral nitrogen fertilizer. For the arable farm, CC-LCA revealed net carbon binding of 4 Mg CO2-eq per hectare (net sink), compared with emissions of 1.6 Mg CO2-eq per hectare in LCA. For the dairy farm, both approaches showed emissions of about 10 Mg CO2-eq per dairy cow, mainly due to ruminant digestion. The results also showed that mineral nitrogen fertilizer effectively contributed to carbon sequestration. Compared with an unfertilized wheat crop, a fertilizer dose of 200 kg N ha(-1) was estimated to bind about eight-fold more GHG and energy in grain than was released or used during fertilizer production and crop cultivation. Thus, we argue that future strategies aiming for climate-friendly products and practices must acknowledge that agriculture sequesters carbon in products.


Climate change; GHG; LCA; Mineral fertilizer; Carbon capture

Published in

SN Applied Sciences
2020, Volume: 2, number: 7, article number: 1264

      SLU Authors

    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG13 Climate action
      SDG2 Zero hunger

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Agricultural Science

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