Can cropland management practices lower net greenhouse emissions without compromising yield?

Ziyin Shang* (Corresponding Author), Mohamed Abdalla, Longlong Xia, Feng Zhou, Wenjuan Sun, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)
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Smart cropland management practices can mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while safeguarding food security. However, the integrated effects on net greenhouse gas budget (NGHGB) and grain yield from different management practices remain poorly defined and vary with environmental and application conditions. Here, we conducted a global meta-analysis on 347 observation sets of non-CO2 GHG (CH4 and N2O) emissions and grain yield, and 412 observations of soil organic carbon sequestration rate (SOCSR). Our results show that for paddy rice, replacing synthetic nitrogen at the rate of 30−59% with organic fertilizer significantly decreased net GHG emissions (NGHGB: −15.3±3.4 (standard error), SOCSR: −15.8±3.8, non-CO2: 0.6±0.1 in Mg CO2 eq ha−1 yr−1 41 ) and improved rice yield (0.4±0.1 in Mg ha−1 yr−1 42 ). In contrast, intermittent irrigation significantly increased net GHG emissions by 11.2±3.1 and decreased rice yield by 0.4±0.1. The reduction in SOC sequestration by intermittent irrigation (15.5±3.3), which was most severe (>20) in alkaline soils (pH>7.5), completely offset the mitigation in CH4 emissions. Straw return for paddy rice also led to a net increase in GHG emissions (NGHGB: 4.8±1.4) in silt-loam soils, where CH4 emissions (6.3±1.3) was greatly stimulated. For upland cropping systems, mostly by enhancing SOC sequestration, straw return (NGHGB: −3.4±0.8, yield: −0.5±0.6) and no-tillage (NGHGB: −2.9±0.7, yield: −0.1±0.3) were more effective in warm climates. This study highlights the importance of carefully managing croplands to sequester soil organic carbon without sacrifice in yield, while limiting CH4 emissions from rice paddies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4657-4670
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number19
Early online date20 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

We thank Belinda Medlyn and Mingkai Jiang for discussion on estimating interactive effect. Z.S. appreciates the financial support from the China Scholarship Council (201706010406) to support her study in the UK and SuperG (funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme; Grant agreement 774124).


  • net greenhouse gas balance
  • residue retention
  • zero-tillage
  • manure substitution
  • water saving
  • global warming


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