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Quantification and modelling of carbon and nitrogen fate in alternative cropping systems experiments on the long term

Abstract : Agricultural activities can lead to imbalanced carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics compared to natural terrestrial eco-systems, causing potential damages for soil, water and air quality. Among these prejudices, decreased soil C and N stocks, increased nitrate leaching in waters and gaseous N emissions towards the atmosphere are of a major concern. To reduce these environmental impacts, innovative and sustainable farming systems are promoted, such as low inputs cropping systems, “conservation” agriculture or organic farming. The objectives of this work were i) to quantify the long term impact of different alternative cropping systems on the fate of C and N in the soil-plantatmosphere system and ii) to simulate C and N dynamics with the agro-environmental model STICS. For this purpose, we studied three long-term field trials: the experiment of La Cage (France) established in 1998, the DOK (Switzerland) started in 1978 and the Foulum Organic (Denmark) established in 1998. The methodological approach combined experimentation and modelling. While La Cage trial enabled an in situ quantification of soil organic C and N storage, N leaching, nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and greenhouse gas (GHG) balance in alternative cropping systems compared to conventional, the Swiss and Danish experiments were used for in silico estimation of the C and N fates in organic cropping systems, after adaptation of the STICS model, followed by calibration and evaluation of the model. Significant annual SOC and SON accumulation was found under conservation agriculture and organic farming at La Cage, whereas no significant change was observed in the low input and the conventional systems. No difference of specific SOC and SON mineralization rates was found between systems in vitro or in silico : we conclude that the higher C and N storage in soil observed in the conservation and organic systems was mainly driven by increased crop residues, rather than by the effect of no tillage practiced in conservation agriculture. The N surplus, i.e. the difference between N inputs and N exports at the field scale, varied widely between treatments. The fate of this N surplus also varied between systems with wide variations in SON storage and gaseous losses but no differences in N leaching. The cumulative N2O emissions measured continuously for three years were highly correlated with the calculated gaseous N losses (volatilization and denitrification), with higher losses in the conservation system. These calculations allowed establishing a full GHG balance. Therefore the four agricultural systems dissimilarly impacted the N fate, which could not be predicted by the N surplus alone. The GHG balance is a much better indicator of the environmental impact of cropping systems relative to C and N fluxes. In the Danish and Swiss experiments, the soil-crop model STICS was used to mimic crop production, N uptake and N surplus. The model was first adapted and evaluated to simulate organic farming systems. The model could satisfactorily simulate crop production, N uptake, N surplus and SON storage in the organic and conventional systems of these two longterm experiments. Model outputs suggested that the N fate could be contrasted according to fertilization and crop management, and that N losses were not systematically reduced in organic compared to conventional cropping systems. This study challenges the frequent belief that alternative cropping systems systematically improve the global C and N environmental impacts of agriculture.
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  • HAL Id : tel-02119362, version 1

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Bénédicte Autret. Quantification and modelling of carbon and nitrogen fate in alternative cropping systems experiments on the long term. Agricultural sciences. Institut agronomique, vétérinaire et forestier de France, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017IAVF0023⟩. ⟨tel-02119362⟩

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