Creating Carbon Offsets in Agriculture through No-Till Cultivation: A Meta-Analysis of Costs and Carbon Benefits
Carbon terrestrial sinks are often seen as a low-cost alternative to fuel switching and reduced fossil fuel use for lowering atmospheric CO2. To determine whether this is true for agriculture, one meta-regression analysis (52 studies, 536 observations) examines the costs of switching from conventional tillage to no-till, while another (51 studies, 374 observations) compares carbon accumulation under the two practices. Costs per ton of carbon uptake are determined by combining the two results. The viability of agricultural carbon sinks is found to vary by region and crop, with no-till representing a low-cost option in some regions (costs of less than $10/tC), but a high-cost option in others (costs of $100-$400/tC). A particularly important finding is that no-till cultivation may store no carbon at all if measurements are taken at sufficient depth. In some circumstances no-till cultivation may yield a “triple dividend” of carbon storage, increased returns and reduced soil erosion, but in many others creating carbon offset credits in agricultural soils is not cost effective because reduced tillage practices store little or no carbon.
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