The carbon footprints of food crop production

Jonathan Hillier, Cathy Hawes, Geoff Squire, Alex Hilton, Stuart Wale, Pete Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Citations (Scopus)


The agriculture sector contributes significantly to global carbon emissions from diverse sources such as product and machinery manufacture, transport of materials and direct and indirect soil greenhouse gas emissions. In this article, we use farm survey data from the east of Scotland combined with published estimates of emissions for individual farm operations to quantify the relative contribution of a range of farming operations and determine the carbon footprint of different crops (e.g. legumes, winter and spring cereals, oilseed rape, potato) and farming practices (conventional, integrated and organic). Over all crops and farm types, 75% of the total emissions result from nitrogen fertilizer use (both organic and inorganic) - from production, application, and direct nitrous oxide emissions from the soil resulting from application. Once nitrogen is accounted for, there are no major differences-between organic, integrated or conventional farming practices. These data highlight opportunities or carbon mitigation and will be of value for inclusion in full life cycle analyses of arable production systems and in calculations of greenhouse gas balance associated with land-use change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-118
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2009


  • agriculture
  • carbon footprint
  • greenhouse gas
  • mitigation
  • N-fertilizer
  • greenhouse-gas mitigation
  • winter-wheat
  • management
  • emissions
  • fields
  • sustainability
  • agroecosystems
  • biodiversity
  • coleoptera

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