Incorporating organic matter alters soil greenhouse gas emissions and increases grain yield in a semi-arid climate

Louise Barton, Frances C. Hoyle, Katia T. Stefanova, Daniel V. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 The Authors

Increasing soil organic matter (OM) is promoted as a strategy for improving the resilience of coarse-textured cropping soils in semi-arid climates. While increasing soil OM can benefit crop productivity, it can also enhance nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in temperate climates. Our objective was to investigate if increasing soil OM affected soil greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes and grain production in a semi-arid region in south-western Australia. We firstly measured N2O and methane (CH4) fluxes from a free-draining sandy soil with contrasting soil OM content for 2.5 years using automated soil chambers. The randomized block design included two OM additions (no OM, plus OM) by two nitrogen (N) fertilizer rates (0, 0N; 100 kg N ha-1 yr-1, +N) by three replicate plots. Organic matter (chaff) had been applied to the plus OM treatments every three years since 2003, with 80 t OM ha-1 applied in total. Secondly, we investigated the interaction between soil OM content and N fertilizer addition on grain yield for two growing seasons. The randomized split-plot design included two OM treatments by five N fertilizer rates (0, 25, 50, 75 and 100 kg N ha-1), by three replicates. Increasing soil OM increased grain yields and soil mineral N, but also enhanced soil N2O emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions were low by international standards ( plus OM (0N; 194 g N2O-N ha-1) > no OM (+N; 41 g N2O-N ha-1) = no OM (0N; 14 g N2O-N ha-1). Increasing soil OM also decreased CH4 uptake by 30%. Management practices that increase soil OM in sandy-textured rainfed, cropping soils in semi-arid regions should be encouraged as they can improve grain yield without substantial increases in soil N2O or CH4 emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-330
Number of pages11
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Early online date6 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


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