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Tag Archive: agriculture

  1. FAO launches new Climate-Smart Agriculture web platform

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    November 10, 2017 Bonn read full FAO news release here

    Photo: ©Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos for FAO

    A FAO-supported project in Bhagawoti Kauledhara, Nepal.

    10 November 2017, Rome – To help steer our food systems in a sustainable direction, FAO has produced a new sourcebook for how to implement “climate-smart” approaches to agriculture, launched today at the Agriculture Action Day on the sidelines of the COP23 climate summit in Bonn.

    “Hunger, poverty, and climate can be tackled together through approaches such as Climate-Smart Agriculture that recognize the critical linkages between sustainable agriculture and strategies that promote resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change,” said René Castro, Assistant Director-General of the Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department of FAO.

    Ultimately, the world needs to produce 50 percent more food to feed nearly 10 billion people in 2050, and to find a way to do so with only a quarter of current per capita carbon emissions, Castro noted.

    The online Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook – Second Edition 2017 is the result of one of FAO’s major areas of work that comes on the heels of the recently launched FAO’s  Climate Change Strategy.

    It comprises a wide range of knowledge and expertise to help guide policy makers, programme managers, academics, extension services and other practitioners make the agricultural sectors more sustainable and productive while also contributing to food security and lower carbon intensity….

  2. UN Climate Meetings- Where are we? Process for Implementing Paris Accords, Rise of Focus on Agriculture

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    Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

    [Ellie’s Note: this UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP23) meeting in Bonn continued the process of agreeing on the rules for implementing the Paris Accords.  This is a multi-year consensus effort. After 5 years of debate, according to an UN Food and Ag Organization (FAO) leader and others, parties agreed to include agriculture in the Paris Agreement rule book (more on the importance of the rule book here) for the first time. See some background on UNFCC’s discussions around agriculture and land use here. Agriculture as a source of GHG emissions but also as a part of the solution was on the agenda in this year’s COP23 unlike ever before according to many people I spoke with.]

    November 17, 2017 read today’s full Climate Home Bonn Bulletin here

    That is the summary of the questions to be answered through the “talanoa dialogue”, which officially starts as these talks wrap up. Fiji will convene a year-long process alongside 2018 [UNFCCC COP24] hosts Poland, according to an informal note published late on Thursday.

    The plan, which they will ask ministers to endorse this afternoon, takes the UN special report on 1.5C due next September as a key input – anchoring that and not 2C as the target. A draft “Bula momentum for implementation” confirmed the need for an extra meeting next year to make sure the Paris rulebook gets finished….

     

     

  3. Conversion to organic farming globally can secure sustainable food system & GHG reductions

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    • A global conversion to organic farming can contribute to a profoundly sustainable food system, provided that it is combined with a one-third reduction of animal-based products in the human diet, less concentrated feed and less food waste.
    • Organic farming has extremely positive ecological effects, i.e. considerable reduction of fertilizers and pesticides, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions — and does not lead to increased land use, despite lower agricultural yields.

    November 15, 2017 Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt | Graz | Wien  Read full ScienceDaily article here

    …The results reveal that, combined with abstaining from the use of concentrated feed in livestock production, a corresponding reduction in the consumption of animal products and a drop in food waste, organic agriculture has the potential to play a significant role in a sustainable nutrition system.

    In this way, it would be possible to secure the provision of food for the global population even in the event of a population size above 9 billion in the year 2050; land use would not increase, and the negative effects of today’s intensive nutrition system such as high nitrogen surplus levels or elevated pesticide loads would be reduced considerably. Furthermore, such a system would reduce considerably the greenhouse gas emissions from land use and the livestock systems, important drivers of climate change.”

    However, as long as changes in consumption patterns as accompanying measures are not implemented, the critics will be right: Organic agricultural methods concomitant with unchanged consumption patterns would entail an increased demand for land. This would offset the advantages of organic farming and would thus significantly reduce or even call into question its contribution towards a sustainable development.

    Adrian Muller, Christian Schader, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Judith Brüggemann, Anne Isensee, Karl-Heinz Erb, Pete Smith, Peter Klocke, Florian Leiber, Matthias Stolze, Urs Niggli. Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01410-w

  4. Methane spike over past decade likely caused by increased shale gas production in US, not cows and other livestock

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    • The most likely cause of the strong spike in methane over the last decade is from the production of natural gas from shale gas (fracking) in US, not cows and other cattle.
    • Methane is an important greenhouse gas and is currently responsible for an amount of global warming equal to approximately 60% of that caused by carbon dioxide.
    • Methane reductions offer one of the few available approaches to immediately slow the rate of global warming, since the climate responds more quickly to decreases in methane compared to carbon dioxide.

    by Ellie Cohen November 14, 2017 Bonn, German at the UN Climate Meetings (UNFCCC, Conference of the Parties or COP23)

    Today I attended a press conference with Professor Bob Howarth from Cornell’s Methane Project here at the UN climate meetings.  My quick notes are below and you can watch of this highly recommended webcast of the press conference here and see here for a pdf of his handout at the press conference. For further information and copies of the figures used in the press event, visit howarthlab.org

    From his research and from the literature (including talking with the authors of recent literature), he concludes that the natural gas and oil industry is probably contributing twice as much methane as animal agriculture.

    Before 2005 no shale gas showed up in global monitoring of methane but now it makes up 60% of global methane and is the most likely candidate for the strong spike in the last decade – not cows and other cattle. This methane spike is showing up almost entirely from US, not other parts of the world (through 2012- that satellite is no longer operational; another one is supposed to be going up soon).

    Dr. Howarth made an urgent call for a new approach to measuring methane (radiocarbon C14) to conclusively identify the sources so that we can quickly reduce this powerful greenhouse gas. He said even if we stopped all of our CO2 production today we’d still feel an impact for 30 to 40 years on global warming – CO2 remains in the atmosphere from 100 to 1000 years. Methane has its biggest impact immediately – within 10 years so reducing methane can have a quick impact on reducing global warming.

    He said even the EPA inventory has an estimate of methane that’s way too low and that there is possibly some cover up the actual data (he said more about this afterwards off-camera.

    NOTE: see this relevant InsideClimateNews article about a pivotal EPA study on how the US govt hid fracking dangers to drinking water that provided the rationale for exemptions that helped unleash the fracking boom and about how the science was suppressed to protect industry interests.).

    Dr. Howarth said that the number of cows and cattle is lower than a decade ago in North America and in the US so he asked how do you reconcile the methane increase shown through c13 studies and satellite data [its fracking].

    He also said that with increases in human population there will be increased demand for meat and more intense use of agricultural lands that would have a negative environmental impact. He said meat production is still a significant contributor to methane and that he believes we should eat less meat and have better handling of methane. He feels that how much methane cows produce is directly related to the type of food they eat.

    He said that we’re feeding the world from roughly the same amount of land as in 1960 but doing it with a growing population will have more impact on the land and the environment.

    Finally Dr. Howarth said this all goes to the heart of the issue around climate change and the idea of natural gas being a bridge to renewables. It releases more methane than coal.

    I asked him afterward what he thought of holistic, prescribed grazing versus industrial cattle production. He said it was his understanding that grass fed is much better than industrial. He had 18 PhD grad students in his class last spring assess the literature and none of them came up with any clear answer. He said the literature is all over the place on this – as we know!

    For me it also puts into question the GHG reductions touted by California where there are significant investments in fracking and natural gas.

  5. Cover crops provide bed and breakfast layover for migrating birds

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    October 30, 2017 University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences  Read full ScienceDaily article here

    After harvesting a corn or soybean crop, farmers may plant a cover crop for a variety of reasons — to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve water quality. Now there’s another reason. New research shows that migratory birds prefer to rest and refuel in fields with cover crops.

    Cassandra A. Wilcoxen, Jeffery W. Walk, Michael P. Ward. Use of cover crop fields by migratory and resident birds. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 2018; 252: 42 DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2017.09.039

  6. Review of research and future priorities to inform CA’s GHG emissions reductions plan: Agriculture and working lands

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    Byrnes R, Eviner V, Kebreab E, Horwath W, Jackson L, Jenkins B, Kaffka S, Kerr A, Lewis J, Mitloehner F, Mitchell J, Scow K, Steenwerth K, Wheeler S. 2017. Review of research to inform California’s climate scoping plan: Agriculture and working lands. California Agriculture 71(3):160-168. https://doi.org/10.3733/ca.2017a0031.

    This article grew out of conversations with state agencies concerning the need for a review of the current evidence base to inform emissions-reduction modeling and revisions to the state Climate Change Scoping Plan (CARB 2017b), which specifies net emissions reduction targets for each major sector of the California economy (table 1). It is important to note that the Scoping Plan states that work will continue through 2017 to estimate the range of potential sequestration benefits from natural and working lands (including agriculture and rangelands).

    Abstract: Agriculture in California contributes 8% of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To inform the state’s policy and program strategy to meet climate targets, we review recent research on practices that can reduce emissions, sequester carbon and provide other co-benefits to producers and the environment across agriculture and rangeland systems. Importantly, the research reviewed here was conducted in California and addresses practices in our specific agricultural, socioeconomic and biophysical environment. Farmland conversion and the dairy and intensive livestock sector are the largest contributors to GHG emissions and offer the greatest opportunities for avoided emissions. We also identify a range of other opportunities including soil and nutrient management, integrated and diversified farming systems, rangeland management, and biomass-based energy generation. Additional research to replicate and quantify the emissions reduction or carbon sequestration potential of these practices will strengthen the evidence base for California climate policy.

    A no-till field with residue from a winter crop of triticale. Management practices can increase total soil carbon, but the magnitude and persistence of sequestration is dependent on inputs and time.A no-till field with residue from a winter crop of triticale. Management practices can increase total soil carbon, but the magnitude and persistence of sequestration is dependent on inputs and time.

    …soil carbon sequestration is highly dependent on annual carbon inputs and if management changes, soil carbon is prone to return to the atmosphere.Given the reality of inconsistent management, rates of soil carbon sequestration that can be expected in row crop systems practice are perhaps 10% of the values seen in these long-term research trials, namely in the range of 0.014 to 0.03 tons per acre per year (unpublished data). If soil carbon sequestration and storage are priorities, management plans and incentive structures should account for the wide variability of California soils and the need for consistent management over time.

    While any single soil and nutrient management practice may have limited impact on GHG emissions, many have well-documented co-benefits, including reductions in erosion, improved air quality (Madden et al. 2008), reduced farm machinery fossil fuel use (West et al. 2002), reduced nitrogen leaching (Poudel et al. 2002), enhanced water infiltration and reduced soil water evaporation (Mitchell 2012), and increased carbon stocks below the root zone to improve carbon sequestration (Suddick et al. 2013)

    The research above points to the magnitude of opportunity from alternative rangeland practices and the need to identify socioeconomic opportunities and barriers to greater participation in range management incentive programs

    Priorities for future research

    Here we identify cross-cutting priorities that will enable scaling and, equally important, the integration of multiple practices to achieve more substantial progress toward both climate change mitigation and adaption in agriculture. Among the priorities we identify are:

    • Replication and longer-term studies to quantify the GHG mitigation or carbon sequestration associated with specific practices.
    • Quantification of synergies from stacking multiple practices over time and scale (e.g., field to region) to address efficacies for carbon sequestration, emissions reductions and nitrogen use.
    • Characterization and, where possible, quantification of co-benefits (water, economic, air quality) from soil management practices, livestock grazing and manure management, and biomass-based fuels.
    • Using social and political science research to identify socioeconomic factors that either create barriers or promote adoption of practices (e.g., social networks, gender, social norms, and values).
    • Validation of metrics for soil health parameters, including calibration of models for California conditions that may be used to estimate metrics, such as:
    • Potential use of remote sensing to measure adoption of specific practices outlined above.
    • Validation and/or calibration of models for estimating GHG emissions, including the crop and soil process model, DAYCENT (Del Grosso et al. 2005), and the USDA’s whole farm and ranch carbon and GHG accounting system, which uses the DAYCENT model (COMET-Farm; http://cometfarm.nrel.colostate.edu/ ).
    • Research into the design of incentives (such as payments, tax credits, low interest loans, etc.) to leverage private investment and promote adoption of emissions-reduction practices in agriculture.
    • Development of metrics and sampling or survey tools to assess adoption of emissions-reduction practices.
    • Development of farmer demonstration and evaluation networks for scaling up the adoption of improved performance systems.
  7. Strips of prairie plants slow loss of soil, nutrients and water from ag fields, double biodiversit

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    • Converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled

    October 2, 2017 USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station read full ScienceDaily article here

    Prairie strips integrated in row crops reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife, and improve water infiltration, a decade of research is demonstrating….

    ….Research suggests that prairie strips reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife and improve water infiltration. According to the study published by PNAS, converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled….

    …”The strips are designed to act as a speed bump to slow water down and give it time to infiltrate the soil,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, the study’s lead author and a professor at Iowa State University. Researchers estimate that prairie strips could be used to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services across 3.9 million hectares of cropland in Iowa and a large portion of the 69 million hectares planted in rowcrops in the United States, much of it in the Midwest.

    Lisa A. Schulte, Jarad Niemi, Matthew J. Helmers, Matt Liebman, J. Gordon Arbuckle, David E. James, Randall K. Kolka, Matthew E. O’Neal, Mark D. Tomer, John C. Tyndall, Heidi Asbjornsen, Pauline Drobney, Jeri Neal, Gary Van Ryswyk, Chris Witte. Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn–soybean croplands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201620229 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620229114

  8. Cows may have contributed to recent uptick in atmospheric methane

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    • There has been an alarming uptick in atmospheric methane in recent years, following a flattening of concentrations from 2000 to around 2007
    • Just from livestock methane emissions, study’s revisions resulted in 11 percent more methane in a recent year than previously estimated– not the biggest contributor to the annual methane budget in the atmosphere, but it may be the biggest contributor to increases in the atmospheric budget over recent years

    By Chris Mooney September 29  2017 read full Washington Post article here

    When it comes to climate change, we know where the most important warming agent — carbon dioxide — is coming from….But the second-most potent greenhouse warming agent — the hard-hitting, if short-lived, gas known as methane — presents more of a mystery. There has clearly been an alarming uptick in atmospheric methane in recent years, following a flattening of concentrations from 2000 to around 2007. But the cause of this particular pattern has been hotly debated, with some blaming the fracked natural gas boom (natural gas is primarily composed of methane) and others pointing to causes such as agriculture.

    [Atmospheric levels of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, are spiking, scientists report]

    Now, new research published Thursday in the journal Carbon Balance and Management …. point the finger at agriculture once again. And more specifically, at cattle and other livestock.

    “Just from livestock methane emissions, our revisions resulted in 11 percent more methane in a recent year than what we were previously estimating,” said Julie Wolf, lead author of the study who completed the work while a postdoc at the institute and now works at the Department of Agriculture. “It’s not the biggest contributor to the annual methane budget in the atmosphere, but it may be the biggest contributor to increases in the atmospheric budget over recent years…

    ….Cows and other ruminant animals release methane into the atmosphere as a result of a process called “enteric fermentation” — a technical term that basically refers to the digestive chemistry in the animals’ stomachs. As the Environmental Protection Agency explains, the methane produced in this process “is exhaled or belched by the animal and accounts for the majority of emissions from ruminants.”

    Furthermore, the animals’ waste also fills the atmosphere with methane depending on how it is handled, meaning that “manure management” is categorized as a separate source of methane emissions….

    Julie Wolf, Ghassem R. Asrar and Tristram O. West. Revised methane emissions factors and spatially distributed annual carbon fluxes for global livestock. Carbon Balance and Management. September 201712:16 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13021-017-0084-y

    • Our results suggest that livestock methane emissions, while not the dominant overall source of global methane emissions, may be a major contributor to the observed annual emissions increases over the 2000s to 2010s.
  9. Study finds no-tillage not sufficient alone to prevent water pollution from nitrate

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    • no-tillage alone is not sufficient to prevent water pollution from agricultural nitrate pollution
    • study suggests that no-till needs to be complemented with other techniques, such as cover cropping and intercropping or rotation with perennial crops, to improve nitrate retention and water-quality benefits.
    • study found the adoption of no-till resulted in increased nitrate loss via leaching due to the frequent occurrence of macropores, such as those created by dead roots and earthworm burrows, in soils that have been under long-range no-tillage management

    September 22, 2017 Indiana University Read full ScienceDaily article here

    A new study answers a long-debated agricultural question: whether no-tillage alone is sufficient to prevent water pollution from nitrate. The answer is no……The study suggests that no-till needs to be complemented with other techniques, such as cover cropping and intercropping or rotation with perennial crops, to improve nitrate retention and water-quality benefits.

    After studying concentration of nitrate — nitrate amount per water volume unit — and nitrate load, or total amount of nitrate, researchers found surface runoff from no-till fields to contain a similar nitrate load to surface runoff from conventional tillage fields.

    In contrast, nitrate load via leaching was greater with no-till fields than with conventional tillage fields.

    …No-till leaves crop residue on the soil surface and limits soil disturbance except for small slits to add fertilizer. An estimated 20 percent of all croplands in the U.S. are under no-till management. It reduces soil erosion by avoiding tilling year after year, which leads to soil getting washed away into lakes and rivers. Because reducing soil loss reduces nutrient loss, it was assumed that no-till would reduce water pollution, Wang said….

    Stefani Daryanto, Lixin Wang, Pierre-André Jacinthe. Impacts of no-tillage management on nitrate loss from corn, soybean and wheat cultivation: A meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-12383-7

  10. Removing nitrate with buffer zones for healthier ecosystems

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    • For agricultural nitrogen, slow it down, buff it out
    • Understanding where natural nitrate removal is highest can inform management of streams in agricultural settings
    • Nitrate removal in buffer zones was significantly higher than in stream sediments.

    September 27, 2017 American Society of Agronomy read full ScienceDaily article here

    In a new study, researchers have identified nitrate removal hotspots in landscapes around agricultural streams.

    Nitrogen can present a dilemma for farmers and land managers. On one hand, it is an essential nutrient for crops. However, excess nitrogen in fertilizers can enter groundwater and pollute aquatic systems. This nitrogen, usually in the form of nitrate, can cause algal blooms. Microbes that decompose these algae can ultimately remove oxygen from water bodies, causing dead zones and fish kills.

    In a new study, researchers have identified nitrate removal hotspots in landscapes around agricultural streams. “Understanding where nitrate removal is highest can inform management of agricultural streams,” says Molly Welsh, lead author of the study. “This information can help us improve water quality more effectively.”…

    ….Nitrate removal in buffer zones was significantly higher than in stream sediments. “If nitrate removal is the goal of stream restoration, it is vital that we conserve existing buffer zones and reconnect streams to buffer zones,” says Welsh….

    Molly K. Welsh, Sara K. McMillan, Philippe G. Vidon. Denitrification along the Stream-Riparian Continuum in Restored and Unrestored Agricultural Streams. Journal of Environment Quality, 2017; 46 (5): 1010 DOI: 10.2134/jeq2017.01.0006