Proper soil management needed to combat climate change

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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.

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April, 19, 2012 at 09:27 PM

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?" "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow" “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and

April, 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM

Agriculture and forestry are both going to face serious adjustments to retain soil fertility and continue carbon sequestration in soil and vegetation. What interest is there to restore the deep-rooted prairie grasses that can withstand drought and preserve range soils? Their loss was part of the loss of soil fertility in Dust Bowl days, eh?

USA  |  April, 20, 2012 at 05:24 PM

If we improved the efficiency of reproduction in beef and dairy cows, this woud add 5 BILLION DOLLARS revenue for the farmers and ranchers and decrease the herd size by 28%! This could be done in two years and make a huge impact to all the problems that are surfacing now! We have a better chance of pulling off these changes than asking everyone to change. There are only one million beef producers and 75,000 dairy producers to convince of changing!


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