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A multi-product landscape life-cycle assessment approach for evaluating local climate mitigation potential...

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Journal of Cleaner Production
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Increasing demand for land-based climate mitigation requires more efficient management of agricultural landscapes for competing objectives. Here we develop methods for assessing trade-offs and synergies between intensification and carbon-sequestering conservation measures in annual crop production landscapes using the DayCent ecosystem model and the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) life-cycle assessment (LCA) model. We compiled county-scaled crop yields, fertilizer application rates, and tillage intensity for a corn–soybean farming case study landscape in the US state of Iowa. Using DayCent, we estimated a baseline soil organic carbon (SOC) accrual rate of 0.29 Mg C ha−1 y−1 driven by historical increases in crop productivity and reductions in tillage intensity. We then simulated the effects of management interventions targeted toward intensification (stover removal) and SOC sequestration (tillage intensity reduction and winter cover crop addition) individually and in combination. We propose a new multi-product landscape–LCA approach that analyzes marginal changes in corn grain, corn stover, and soybean production from the landscape in terms of their value for biofuel production (corn ethanol, soy biodiesel, and cellulosic ethanol from stover) and associated net displacement of conventional fossil-derived fuel use. This enables us to evaluate both intensification and sequestration effects in common CO2-equivalent mitigation units. We also used DayCent-simulated yields under the different land management scenarios to estimate farm-level costs and revenues. Our results show that intensification via collecting 30% of corn stover for biofuel production would increase the total greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential of this landscape by 0.93 Mg CO2e ha−1 y−1 and provide $49 ha−1 y−1 of additional net revenue from biomass sales, but would reduce the baseline SOC accumulation rate by approximately 40%. In contrast, integrated approaches that include co-adoption of winter cover cropping and/or tillage intensity reduction would result in increased rates of SOC accumulation above the baseline, achieving simultaneous improvements in both farm profits and the overall GHG mitigation potential of the landscape.