Plants & GHGs

The NZAGRC’s former nitrous oxide and soil carbon work streams were combined into one programme this year. This ensures a strong overall framework, closer communication and full GHG analyses across the programme. The programme focusses on three key areas:

1. Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low GHG emissions;

2. Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions at paddock scale; and

3. Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.

Current progress and research stories

Sixty years of seasonal irrigation affects carbon storage in soils beneath pasture grazed by sheep

Kelliher, F. M., Condron, L. M., Cook, F. J., & Black, A. (2012). Sixty years of seasonal irrigation affects carbon storage in soils beneath pasture grazed by sheep. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 148, 29-36


For sixty years at Winchmore, South Island, New Zealand (43°48′S, 171°48′E, 160 masl), stoney soils under continuous pasture grazing by sheep have received rainfall (nil irrigation) or rainfall and irrigation as required during summer. This consistently managed, replicated field trial presents a unique opportunity to examine long-term treatment effects on pastoral soil. Samples were recently excavated at intervals to a depth of 1 m and the total carbon (C) storage measured. In the irrigated plots, soil C storage (9.1 ± 0.3 kg C m−2, mean ± standard error, n = 3) was significantly less (p < 0.05) than in plots receiving rainfall alone (13.4 ± 0.8 kg C m−2). We estimated irrigation induced a 36% increase of C inputs to the soil on an annual basis, mostly as litter fall. Using a respiration model based on soil temperature and water content inputs, irrigation was also estimated to have induced a 97% increase in rate of annual C loss to the atmosphere. On this basis, the estimated irrigation effects had reduced C storage by 61% (97–36%), reasonably accounting for the 47% treatment effect determined by soil sampling.

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