Intercrops as a tool to reduce the climate impact of agriculture

Mistra Food Futures Report #7. Intercrops as a tool to reduce the climate impact of agriculture – A comparative life cycle analysis of different management measures.

The agricultural sector is today an important contributor to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In order to improve its greenhouse gas balance, it has been proposed to implement measures to increase soil carbon concentrations.

Intermediate crops are currently grown in Sweden for a variety of reasons, such as to control weeds, prevent nitrogen leakage and promote biodiversity, but also to increase soil carbon content.

However, if the biomass of catch crops is left in the field over winter, there may be a risk that N2O emissions will increase, which could counteract the climate mitigation effect of increased soil organic carbon. Harvesting certain types of catch crops could potentially reduce N2O emissions during the winter season, while the removed above-ground biomass could be used as a resource, for example as feedstock for biogas production.

– The results showed that the potential soil carbon effect was dependent on the times of establishment and harvest, where an early establishment and late harvest generally resulted in the largest carbon sequestration. The highest soil carbon effect was calculated for the Reference scenario, where the intermediate crop was not harvested, explains Johan Nilsson, researcher at Mistra Food Futures.


Johan Nilsson, Thomas Prade, Maria Emfors, Per-Anders Hansson (2022).

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Mistra Food Futures Report #7. Mellangrödor som verktyg för att minska jordbrukets klimatpåverkan – En jämförande livscykelanalys av olika hanteringsåtgärder.

About Mistra Food Futures

The overarching vision of the programme Mistra Food Futures is to create a science-based platform to enable transformation of the Swedish food system into one that is sustainable (in all three dimensions: environmental, economic, and social), resilient and delivers healthy diets. By taking a holistic perspective and addressing issues related to agriculture and food production, as well as processing, consumption and retail, Mistra Food Futures aims to play a key role in initiating an evidence-based sustainability (including environmental, economic, and social dimensions) and resilience transformation of the Swedish food system.