Below ground carbon sequestration potential of apple trees
Date: September 2019- September 2023
Partners: University of Reading, NIAB East Malling and CTP FCR
Funders: AHDB, BBSRC, Berry Gardens, M&S, NACM, WorldWide Fruits and The Worshipful Company of Fruiters.
Atmospheric CO2 levels have risen from 280ppm to nearly 420ppm because of human activity and this increase is one of the main drivers of the current climate crisis. Perennial crops, such as apple trees, could play an important role in mitigating this by the sequestration of carbon (C) belowground in their roots and the surrounding soil. Commercial dessert apple orchards last between 15 and 20 years, and cider orchards can last up to 50 years before they are grubbed up, although some soil C is lost back into the atmosphere.
As atmospheric CO2 increases the effect on apple production and C storage is still not fully understood, but there is increasing evidence that is indicting that increasing soil organic C content is beneficial for crop production, climate change mitigation and the delivery of numerous other ecosystem services. Current apple (variety and rootstock) breeding programmes have focussed on promoting carbon uptake by the fruit (i.e. increase crop load) rather than considering C storage belowground in the roots and the soil.
Catherine is investigating several factors which may influence belowground C sequestration potential of apple tree. This includes different commercially used rootstocks, interaction of rootstock and different scion varieties, effect of elevated temperatures (at Brogdale) and what happens to soil C at the end of the orchards commercially productive life and the effect of age on C storage and how this could help mitigate climatic change and help improve farming practices to help prolong and protect soil carbon storage.