Effects of organic energy crop rotations and fertilisation with the liquid digestate phase on organic carbon in the topsoil

Karin S. Levin, Karl Auerswald, Hans Jürgen Reents, Kurt Jürgen Hülsbergen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Combining organic farming and biogas production from agricultural feedstocks has been suggested as a way of achieving carbon (C) neutrality in Europe. However, as the long-term effects of C removal for methane production on soil organic carbon (SOC) are unclear, organic farmers in particular have questioned whether farm biogas production will have a positive effect on soil fertility. Eight years of data from an organic long-term field trial involving digestate fertilisation and various crop rotations (CRs) with differing proportions of clover-grass leys were used to calculate C inputs based on the CANDY model, and these modelled changes compared with measured changes in SOC content (SOCc) over the same period. Measured SOCc increased by nearly 20% over the eight years. Digestate fertilisation significantly increased SOCc. Fertilised plots with the highest proportion of clover-grass in the CR had the highest SOCc. The C inputs from clover-grass leys, even if they only made up 25% of the CR, were high enough to increase SOCc, even with the removal of all aboveground biomass and without fertilisation. Our results show that biogas production based on clover-grass leys could be an important part of sustainable farming, improving or maintaining SOCc and improving nutrient flows, particularly in organic farming, while simultaneously providing renewable energy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1393
JournalAgronomy
Volume11
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Biogas
  • Carbon input
  • Clover-grass
  • Digestate
  • Ley
  • Organic agriculture

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