A new study from the University of Kentucky in the United States suggests that the use of cover crops and zero-tillage practices can increase soil carbon levels and help tackle climate change.
The trials took place at the University’s Blevins research plots at Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington, only one of a few sites in the world that have been in continuous no-till agriculture for more than 50 years. Using historical field data, field observations and agricultural modelling, the researchers were able to explore the long-term effects of cover crops and no-till on the site and predict how those management practices may continue to benefit similar agroecosystems in the future.
The model showed that no-till and cover crops work together to simultaneously slow down soil carbon decomposition and increase carbon inputs into the soil. While cover crops combined with no-tillage led to carbon gains in the topsoil compared to a system that uses conventional tillage and cover crops, no-till only minorly contributed to the carbon gains.
“Our research shows that soil carbon sequestration is highly connected to biomass carbon inputs from both the cover crop and corn residues,” said Wei Ren, UK assistant professor who led the project. “Elevated carbon dioxide and warming effects would promote the growth of the cover crop to increase soil carbon gains under future climate change.”
Photo caption: Some of the Blevins research plots at Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington
Photo source: University of Kentucky