The global agriculture sector is responsible for close 20% of the aggregate anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted since the start of the industrial age. Much of these emissions are attributed to the degradation of soils due to land use change when native ecosystems were converted to agricultural fields. Soil organic carbon (SOC) has been found to decrease in temperate soils when the native (such as a forest or grassland) ecosystem is replace by croplands. The aggregate amount of organic carbon stored in soils globally is estimated be 3.3x the size of the atmospheric carbon pool. Further soil degradation and reduction of SOC could have drastic implications on the atmosphere and climate. Conversely, increases in SOC rates could allow global soils to act as carbon sinks, mitigating CO2-forced climate change. This paper presents a case study of the costs and benefits of restoring agricultural crop fields to grasslands in the upper Midwest. Parameters that control both benefits (in terms SOC and stored carbon) and costs (cropland rental rates) are spatially controlled for, resulting in a space cross-sectional cost-benefit analysis. The benefits (tons of carbon sequestered per acre) were found using the net difference between two models that assessed the SOC of grasslands and croplands as a function of soil composition and climate, while the county-level average cropland rental rates represented the cost. The research ultimately finds that space-dependent variables have a significant impact on the costs of sequestering carbon.


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