Agriculture's role in global climate change has moved beyond the carbon sequestering realm.
"That role is now recognized as much larger and includes major climate friendly strategies for dryland agriculture," says Dave Huggins, a soil scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Pullman, Wash.
Today's expanded role for farms in meeting new global change problems includes intensification and diversification of cropping systems including the use of annual and perennial crops, explains Huggins, a key research with the Washington State University Climate Friendly Farming studies.
Use of precision agriculture and refinement of systems which use less synthetic fertilizer are key elements in the role farms may play in environmental improvement, he adds. Increasing the use of biomass or dedicated energy crops to produce renewable bioproducts (energy, fuel, chemicals, etc.) which can offset use of fossil fuels is also a bold new direction for agriculture today, he says.
Much of this is under investigation in the Climate Friendly Farming program, which includes:
- Establishing field-scale research for various alternative agricultural systems such as direct seeding, perennial-based polyculture and low soil disturbance direct seed organic farming systems.
- Designing innovative agricultural systems and assessing economic factors, energy cycles and efficiencies, and the cycling and flow of carbon, nitrogen and water.
- Evaluating alternative agricultural systems for greenhouse gas impacts including carbon sequestering.
- Evaluating the potential role of biofuel/bioenergy crops in dryland cropping systems.
For more on Climate Friendly Farming, see the October Western Farmer-Stockman magazine.