The effects of long-term management on patterns of carbon storage in a northern highbush blueberry production system

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Feb 1:579:1084-1093. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.11.077. Epub 2016 Dec 5.


Perennial crops potentially provide a sink for atmospheric carbon. However, there is a poor understanding of how perennial crops differ in their carbon allocation patterns, and few studies have tested how agronomic practices such as fertilization influence long-term patterns of carbon allocation in actual production systems. In this study, we report results of a long-term field experiment that tested the individual and combined effects of organic matter incorporation and nitrogen fertilization on carbon allocation. The mature (nine-year-old) blueberry plants in this study had an average standing carbon stock of 1147gCm-2 and average annual Net Primary Production (NPP) of 523gCm-2yr-1, values that are similar to those reported for other woody crops. Forty-four percent of blueberry annual NPP was sequestered in persistent biomass, 19% was exported as harvested fruit, and 37% entered the detrital pathway. Nitrogen applied at rates typical for blueberry production throughout the span of the study had no significant effect on total plant or soil C. However, pre-planting organic matter incorporation and periodic mulching with sawdust significantly increased both soil organic matter and soil C. Pre-planting organic matter incorporation also increased total standing plant C nine years later at maturity. At the field scale, we estimate that fields receiving pre-planting organic matter incorporation would have 4.8% (4.5Mgha-1) more standing C relative to non-amended fields, although the difference is within the range of uncertainty of the estimated values. These results suggest that blueberry production can provide a valuable medium-term carbon store that is comparable in magnitude to that of temperate tree crops, but overall carbon budgets are influenced by management practices over the first decade after planting.

Keywords: Carbon sequestration; Long-term; Mulch; Nitrogen fertilization; Pre-planting soil amendment; Vaccinium corymbosum.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Biomass
  • Blueberry Plants / physiology*
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Carbon Sequestration*
  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Soil


  • Soil
  • Carbon