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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Cover crop cultivation strategies in a Scandinavian context for climate change mitigation and biogas production - Insights from a life cycle perspective

Nilsson, Johan; Ernfors, Maria; Prade, Thomas; Hansson, Per-Anders

Abstract

Cover crop cultivation can be a vital strategy for mitigating climate change in agriculture, by increasing soil carbon stocks and resource efficiency within the cropping system. Another mitigation option is to harvest the cover crop and use the biomass to replace greenhouse gas -intensive products, such as fossil fuels. Harvesting cover crop biomass could also reduce the risk of elevated N2O emissions associated with cover crop cultivation under certain conditions, which would offset much of the mitigation potential. However, harvesting cover crops also reduces soil carbon sequestration potential, as biomass is removed from the field, and cultivation of cover crops requires additional field operations that generate greenhouse gas emissions. To explore these synergies and trade-offs, this study investigated the life cycle climate effect of cultivating an oilseed radish cover crop under different management strategies in southern Scandinavia. Three alternative scenarios (Incorporation of biomass into soil; Mowing and harvesting aboveground biomass; Uprooting and harvesting above- and belowground biomass) were compared with a reference scenario with no cover crop. Harvested biomass in the Mowing and Uprooting scenarios was assumed to be transported to a biogas plant for conversion to upgraded biogas, with the digestate returned to the field as an organic fertiliser for the subsequent crop. The climate change mitigation potential of cover crop cultivation was found to be 0.056, 0.58 and 0.93 Mg CO2-eq ha  1 in the Incorporation, Mowing and Uprooting scenario, respectively. The Incorporation scenario resulted in the highest soil carbon sequestration, but also the greatest soil N2O emissions. Substitution of fossil diesel showed considerable mitigation potential, especially in the Uprooting scenario, where biogas production was highest. Sensitivity analysis revealed a strong impact of time of cover crop establishment, with earlier establishment leading to greater biomass production and thus greater mitigation potential.

Keywords

Biomethane; Catch crop; Climate footprint; Intermediate crop; SoilN2O emissions; Soil organic carbon sequestration

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2024, Volume: 918, article number: 170629Publisher: ELSEVIER