MANHATTAN, Kan. – Soils and plants play a significant role in global climate change, said Chuck Rice, K-State university distinguished professor of agronomy. And the relationship is a two-way street since climate change also can affect food and fiber production in the future, he added.

These are some of the most critical issues to consider on Earth Day 2012, he said, since the issue will only grow more complex with time if it is not addressed soon.

“Food and energy security, water availability and quality, and climate change adaptation and mitigation are some of the greatest challenges facing our society,” Rice said. “Appropriate management of soils offers the potential to provide solutions for each of these challenges.”

Agricultural practices must be developed to mitigate climate change, adapt cropping systems to expected changes, meet future demands for food, feed, fiber, and bioenergy, and protect natural resources, Rice said.

“We will have to find ways to increase production for the purpose of providing food security for nine billion people by the middle of the 21st century, while also protecting the environment and enhancing function of global ecosystems,” he said “The challenge is further compounded by climate change impacts that now require mitigation.”

Many opportunities exist within agriculture to mitigate emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, and to sequester carbon in the soil and in the biomass of perennial vegetation, Rice explained.

There are practices that can be implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing productivity and conserving soil, he added. These practices will need to be applied on a wider scale in the future, he said. This will require continued research and outreach efforts, he said.

“Intensified and focused research is needed in several broad areas in agronomy, crop science and soil science,” Rice said.

In recognition of this challenge, the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) issued an official Position Statement on Climate Change, said Rice, a past president of SSSA.

The statement reflects the consensus of a panel of scientists with national and international expertise in climate processes and impacts, mitigation strategies, and adaptation methods for natural and managed ecosystems.

The full statement is available online as a 12-page pdf document: ASA, CSSA, and SSSA Position Statement on Climate Change.

To help Kansas residents adapt to and mitigate climate change, scientists at K-State have partnered with scientists at the University of Kansas, and the University of Nebraska on two major projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Rice added.

One project consists of more than 60 Kansas scientists who are collaborating on the Climate Change and Renewable Energy initiative, a massive research endeavor that has the potential to significantly affect the Kansas economy. The National Science Foundation awarded $20 million to Kansas NSF EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) program for this five-year award that began October 1, 2009. The research will provide a better understanding of how climate might further change in Kansas and develop strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

The other project, the Central Great Plains Climate Change Education Project, brings together climate scientists, experts in theories on how people learn science, and formal and informal education experts, to help provide the public with a better understanding of climate change.

Kansas State University scientists are playing key roles in both projects, Rice said.

“Our goal is to prepare Kansas and others in this region of the country for the kind of changes in climate projected for the future, as evidenced by the recent change in the USDA’s plant hardiness zone map,” the K-State scientist explained.