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Cover crops support the climate change mitigation potential of agroecosystems (2024.0)

Schön J., Gentsch N., Breunig P.

PLOS ONE, 19 (5), e0302139



Cover crops have the potential to mitigate climate change by reducing negative impacts of agriculture on ecosystems. This study is first to quantify the net climate change mitigation impact of cover crops including land-use effects. A systematic literature and data review was conducted to identify major drivers for climate benefits and costs of cover crops in maize (Zea maize L.) production systems. The results indicate that cover crops lead to a net climate change mitigation impact (NCCMI) of 3.30 Mg CO2e ha-1 a-1. We created four scenarios with different impact weights of the drivers and all of them showing a positive NCCMI. Carbon land benefit, the carbon opportunity costs based on maize yield gains following cover crops, is the major contributor to the NCCMI (34.5% of all benefits). Carbon sequestration is the second largest contributor (33.8%). The climate costs of cover crops are mainly dominated by emissions from their seed production and foregone benefits due to land use for cover crops seeds. However, these two costs account for only 15.8% of the benefits. Extrapolating these results, planting cover crops before all maize acreage in the EU results in a climate change mitigation of 49.80 million Mg CO2e a-1, which is equivalent to 13.0% of the EU’s agricultural emissions. This study highlights the importance of incorporating cover crops into sustainable cropping systems to minimize the agricultural impact to climate change. Catchy