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The net flux of carbon from agricultural soils in Canada 1970–2010


R. L. Desjardins , tel +1/613-759–1522, fax +1/613-759–1432, e-mail


Changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) in agricultural soils influence soil quality and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Land use, management practices, soil characteristics, and climate influence such changes. Using the Century model we estimated the rate of SOC change in agricultural soils of Canada for the period 1970 to 2010. This estimation was based on the estimated SOC change for 15% of the 1250 agriculturally designated soil landscape of Canada (SLC) polygons. Simulations were carried out for two to five crop rotations and for conventional and no-tillage. The results indicate that the agricultural soils in Canada, whose SOC are currently very close to equilibrium, will stop being a net source of CO2 and will become a sink by the year 2000. Rates of carbon change for the years 1970, 1990, and 2010 were estimated to be −67, − 39, and 11 kgC ha−1. The rate of decline in the carbon content of agricultural soils in Canada has slowed considerably in the 1990s as a result of an increase in the adoption of no-tillage management, a reduction in the use of summer fallowing, and an increase in fertilizer application. We estimate that the proportion of agricultural land storing SOC will have increased from 17% in 1990 to 53% by the year 2000.

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