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No-till is more of sustaining the soil than a climate change mitigation option

  • Mondal, Surajit
  • Chakraborty, Debashis
  • Paul, Ranjit Kumar
  • Mondal, Arun
  • Ladha, JK
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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No-till is often referred to as a climate change mitigation option, possibly with a stronger conviction, than as a practice to manage soil organic C (SOC) content. We conducted a global meta-analysis to evaluate the effect of no-till (NT) on SOC concentration (SOCc, g C kg−1 soil) and stock (SOCs, Mg C ha−1 land) across climate, soil texture, cropping systems, and no-till duration to appraise the priority-setting. Compared to conventional tillage, NT favoured a significant rise (ΔSOCc) of 38% in the 0–5 cm soil layer and a much lesser 6% increase in the 5–10 cm layer and no change beyond 10 cm. The temperate climate had nearly twice ΔSOCc in the 0–5 cm layer compared to other climates, while the tropical climate favoured sub-surface accumulation. Coarse- and medium-textured soils and the inclusion of legumes in crop rotation facilitated larger positive ΔSOCs under NT. The microbial biomass C was the most abundant C pool, with 61% and 23% increases under NT in 0–5 and 5–10 cm layers. A large ΔSOCc in aggregates also characterized the top 0–5 cm layer. The difference in SOCs was realized to a maximum 30 cm depth (5.4 Mg ha−1 or 14%) in favour of NT, although varying with the duration of its adoption. The contribution of NT in mitigating global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is meagre, although it can substantially offset emissions from agriculture (17–58%). The benefit of NT in improving SOC is primarily restricted to the surface layer, which is potentially exposed, and therefore an increase could be short-lived. Nevertheless, a short-term gain in SOC is likely to enhance soil quality and crop productivity. Thus, NT may be promoted as a sustainable agricultural management practice rather than emphasizing its role as a potential climate change mitigation option.

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