Animal waste use and implications to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the United States

Zhangcai Qin* (Corresponding Author), Shiyu Deng, Jennifer Dunn, Pete Smith, Wenjuan Sun* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


The increasing production of manure is a challenge for livestock management systems as well as the global environment. Being traditionally, and still dominantly, used as fertilizers, land application of manure could preserve soil fertility and improve soil carbon sequestration. However, manure application also increases nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions that might outweigh the benefits of carbon gains. Here we quantify soil carbon change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corn production systems in the United States from a life-cycle perspective. We show that utilizing manure can reduce mineral fertilizers use, and therefore avoid GHG emissions that would otherwise occur due to mineral fertilizer production and application. As a result, corn produced under manure has a reduced intensity of GHG emissions (1.5 t CO2e ha-1or 0.15 t CO2e
t-1 corn grain), about 15% less than those under sole mineral fertilizers. Owing to a sizeable amount of avoided emissions counterbalancing N2O, the soil carbon gain derived from manure use can largely contribute to net climate change mitigation. It should be noted that GHG emissions estimation can be largely improved as more robust and recent data become available to better represent spatially specific land management and to integrate ecosystem models with life-cycle model. Future studies are merited to further assess the alternative fate of manure, and expand the system boundary to assess agriculture and livestock sectors holistically.
Original languageEnglish
Article number064079
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: Z. Q. and S. D. have been partially supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2016YFA0602701), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41975113), and the Guangdong Provincial Department of Science and Technology (2019ZT08G090). The input of P. S. contributed to the following projects: DEVIL (NE/M021327/1) and Soils-R-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1).

Data availability: The data that support the findings of this study are openly available at the following URL/DOI:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the . Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.


  • corn
  • fertilizer
  • climate change
  • mitigation
  • nitrous oxide
  • soil carbon


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