• Open Access

The carbon implications of large-scale afforestation of agriculturally marginal land with short-rotation willow in Saskatchewan


Beyhan Y Amichev, tel. +1 604 822 4861, fax +1 604 822 4861, e-mail: beyhan.amichev@vt.edu


Afforestation with short-rotation coppice (SRC) willow plantations for the purpose of producing bioenergy feedstock was contemplated as one potential climate change mitigation option. The objectives of this study were to assess the magnitude of this mitigation potential by addressing: (i) the land area potentially available for SRC systems in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada; (ii) the potential biomass yields of SRC plantations; and (iii) the carbon implications from such a large-scale afforestation program. Digital soils and land-use data were used to identify, map, and group into clusters of similar polygons 2.12 million hectares (Mha) of agriculturally marginal land that was potentially suitable for willow in the Boreal Plains and Prairies ecozones in Saskatchewan. The Physiological Principles in Predicting Growth (3PG) model was calibrated with data from SRC experiments in Saskatchewan, to quantify potential willow biomass yields, and the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3), was used to simulate stand and landscape-level C fluxes and stocks. Short-rotation willow plantations managed in 3 year rotations for seven consecutive harvests (21 years) after coppicing at Year 1 produced about 12 Mg ha−1 yr−1 biomass. The more significant contribution to the C cycle was the cumulative harvest. After 44 years, the potential average cumulative harvested biomass C in the Prairies was 244 Mg C ha−1 (5.5 Mg C ha−1 yr−1) about 20% higher than the average for the Boreal Plains, 203 Mg C ha−1 (4.6 Mg C ha−1 yr−1). This analysis did not consider afforestation costs, rate of establishment of willow plantations, and other constraints, such as drought and disease effects on biomass yield. The results must therefore be interpreted as a biophysical mitigation potential with the technical and economic potential being both lower than our estimates. Nevertheless, short-rotation bioenergy plantations offer one potential mitigation option to reduce the rate of CO2 accumulation in the earth's atmosphere and further research is needed to operationalise such a mitigation effort.