Posts Tagged: climate-smart ag
Study at Desert Research and Extension Center highlights agriculture's sustainability role
Under the blistering sun of Southern California's Imperial Valley, it's not surprising that subsurface drip irrigation is more effective and efficient than furrow (or flood) irrigation, a practice in which up to 50% of water is lost to evaporation.
But a recent study also concludes that drip irrigation can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from soil – which contribute to climate change and unhealthy air quality in the region – without sacrificing yields of forage crops alfalfa and sudangrass.
“It was really exciting to see,” said lead author Holly Andrews, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona. “The crop yield was at least maintained and in some cases increased, but the water use and gaseous emissions were especially decreased under drip irrigation.”
Desert REC crucial to collecting data
Andrews and her colleagues gathered data from field studies at University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Desert Research and Extension Center, a crucial hub of desert agriculture research for more than 100 years. Studies in that context are increasingly important, as much of California and the Southwest becomes hotter and drier.
“We already have this history of looking at drip irrigation at this site, so our study was trying to build on that,” said Andrews, who lauded Desert REC's facilities and staff.
In their study published in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, researchers found that – in comparison to furrow irrigation – drip irrigation in alfalfa slashed per-yield soil carbon dioxide emissions by 59%, nitrous oxide by 38% and nitric oxide by 20%.
Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas with nearly 300 times more warming potential as carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide is a precursor to ozone and major contributor to air pollution.
While drip irrigation only decreased water demand 1% in alfalfa, the practice led to a substantial 49% decrease in irrigation for sudangrass. For more fertilizer-intensive sudangrass, drip irrigation also reduced soil emissions of nitrous oxide by 59% and nitric oxide by 49% – the result of drip irrigation making those fertilizers more efficient.
Water management can help mitigate climate change
Studying alfalfa and sudangrass – forage crops with very different fertilizer requirements – was a strategic choice by the researchers. They are number one and number three on the list of most widely grown crops by acreage in the Imperial Valley (Bermudagrass, another forage crop, is number two).
With so much land dedicated to producing these crops, the adoption of drip irrigation at scale could deliver significant benefits to residents' health and quality of life.
“The thought that saving water can increase yields while lowering the emission of trace gases that affect regional air quality and Earth's climate is quite encouraging,” said Pete Homyak, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside who contributed to the study. “This is especially true for the Imperial Valley, an arid region where water is a limited resource and where residents are exposed to bad air quality.”
Homyak, who is affiliated with UC ANR through UC Riverside's Agricultural Experiment Station, said that this study illustrates how changes in water management can substantially mitigate agricultural impacts on the environment.
The study findings should encourage growers to replace furrow irrigation systems with drip irrigation infrastructure – especially in combination with financial incentives from the state, such as cap-and-trade and carbon credit programs, that can help defray high installation costs.
“It really is worthwhile if you're thinking sustainability and environmental activism in how agriculture can actually support climate change mitigation,” Andrews explained. “These practices might be a way that we can start to change that picture a little bit – and make agriculture more sustainable by tailoring irrigation management to local climate conditions.”
In addition to Andrews and Homyak, the other study authors are Patty Oikawa, California State University, East Bay; Jun Wang, University of Iowa; and Darrel Jenerette, UC Riverside./h3>/h3>/h2>
The project will also train plant breeders for the future
Wheat products account for roughly 20% of what people eat every day around the globe. As climate changes, wheat crops must adapt to new weather patterns to keep up with demand.
The University of California, Davis, is leading a five-year, $15 million research project to accelerate wheat breeding to meet those new climate realities, as well as to train a new generation of plant breeders.
“Everything is less stable,” said Jorge Dubcovsky, a plant sciences distinguished professor who is leading the grant research. “Everything is changing so you need to be fast. You need to be able to adapt fast.”
The grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will create a coordinated consortium of 41 wheat breeders and researchers from 22 institutions in 20 states. Researchers from Mexico and the United Kingdom are also participating.
Breeding needs to speed up
“Breeding crops for the future will require new traits, breeding platforms built for quick transfer of traits to elite cultivars, coordination of breeding efforts in public and private domains, and training for current and future plant breeders and researchers,” NIFA said in an announcement about this grant and others related to breeding.
The program involves on-the-ground research, identifying molecular markers and data analysis from multiple institutions to determine genes that will help wheat crops mitigate the effects of climate change. Plant breeding will follow to prove out those findings.
Wheat is unlike other crops in that 60% of the plant varieties — generating about $4 billion in annual production — are developed by public breeding programs rather than private corporations. In many states, wheat growers tax themselves to support basic breeding efforts at public institutions like UC Davis.
Increased coordinated research
The NIFA grant money will lead to more coordinated, sophisticated research. “This grant allows us to do breeding at a level that a good, modern company would do,” Dubcovsky said. “This grant is essential to maintain modern and effective public breeding programs in the U.S.”
The consortium will bring together data and research from across institutions, allowing for more expansive analysis while reducing redundancies. “We can take advantage of the data from everybody,” he said. “By doing that we don't need to duplicate efforts.”
A team in Texas will analyze plant images taken from drones at each institution to extract information about plant growth, water use, nitrogen levels and other data. “Using technology, we can see beyond our human capabilities,” Dubcovsky said. “You can extract a huge amount of information from every plant variety.”
The data from those images will allow researchers to document the plants throughout the life cycle and determine which plants fare better under certain conditions. Genotyping will help researchers obtain information about the plant genome. The combination of these two types of data could speed up breeding cycles, helping wheat crops adapt to a changing environment.
“If we can breed fast, we can adapt to change,” Dubcovsky said. “We are trying to make sustainable improvements in time.”
Training the next generation
The project will also train a cohort of 20 plant Ph.D. students in active breeding programs where they will participate in fieldwork, collect data from drones and DNA samples, and learn to integrate that information to accelerate wheat breeding. The students will participate in online and face-to-face workshops, as well as educational events and national scientific conferences.
Colorado State University, Cornell University, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, Montana State University, Oklahoma State University, Purdue University, South Dakota State University, Texas A&M University, University of Idaho, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin, Utah State University, Virginia Tech, Washington State University, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service branches in North Dakota, Washington, Kansas and North Carolina are also participating in the consortium./h3>/h3>/h3>/h2>
Study shows sugar, color content should be watched
Warming temperatures over the past 60 years have led to increased wine quality, but a new study looking at sugar and color content in grapes indicates the industry may be facing trouble if trends continue, according to collaborative research out of the University of California, Davis, and University of Bordeaux.
“Quality has increased steadily up to now,” said lead author Kaan Kurtural, a professor of viticulture and enology and an extension specialist at UC Davis. “We just don't know the tipping point.”
Kurtural's research, published in the journal OENO One, focuses on two renowned wine regions — Napa Valley and Bordeaux, France.
Researchers looked at ripening, grape quality and temperature data over six decades in both regions and then confirmed the findings with a five-year trial in Napa. They also consulted wine ratings in publications like Wine Spectator to gauge consumer demand.
One key finding: As temperatures exceeded what was considered the optimal level for quality, the grapes produced better wines.
“Previous research had few field data, but a record of assumptions,” said Kurtural.
Other quality factors at play
Temperature is a factor, but the paper suggests that sugar and color content should not be discounted. The authors also identified a biomarker that affects taste, color and other factors that can be the bellwether for climate change in red-skinned wine grapes.
“Temperature is always there,” he said. “Temperature is not your bellwether.”
Higher temperatures can harm grape composition, including color, taste and aroma. Researchers examined pigment and sugar content of five California vintages of cabernet sauvignon, finding that as the grapes got sweeter the skin and color deteriorated.
The degradation of these quality-related compounds and the observed plateaus of wine quality ratings suggests there can be too much of a good thing.
Researchers have long theorized that increasing temperatures from climate change would lead to shifts in wine-growing regions, opening up some new areas for vineyards and making others unsustainable.
That shift could be a boon to some economies and devastating to others, something the industry should watch.
“Since the 1980s, grapes got riper and they were able to make better flavor and color compounds,” Kurtural said. “Are we going to lose this or adapt more?”
Gregory A. Gambetta with the University of Bordeaux is a corresponding author on the paper.
For more information:
- Kaan Kurtural, Viticulture and Enology, cell 707-200-5378, email@example.com
- Amy Quinton, UC Davis News and Media Relations, cell 530-601-8077, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Emily C. Dooley, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, cell 530-650-6807, email@example.com
My father was ahead of his time.
Years before Americans were asked to, Jim Hayden ensured that our family conserved energy by keeping the thermostat low, turning off lights and taking "military" showers to reduce water use. My father also observed the speed limit. Our family vacations took us to national parks. I grew up with a keen appreciation for the outdoors. I remember the sense of horror and helplessness when I saw the images of distressed wildlife in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara oil spill, which devastated the beaches that were an important part of our family's life.
In part as a result of that oil spill, Earth Day came into being. And 49 years after that inaugural Earth Day event, many of us will find ourselves at a gathering dedicated to increasing awareness of the environment that supports and sustains us all.
History of Earth Day
Earth Day was launched in 1970. Many factors contributed to the call for a national day focusing on environmental stewardship, including the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring - serialized in the New Yorker - and the catastrophic oil spill that occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969. The Santa Barbara oil spill galvanized U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) to call for a national day of locally inspired and organized "teach-ins" on the environment - a national "Earth Day." The Earth Day model was inspired by the spirit of campus activism at the nation's colleges and universities. It wasn't top-down, but rather a grassroots effort that encouraged communities to develop educational and service events around issues and topics important to them.
Earth Day struck a chord; some estimates suggest that 1 in 10 Americans participated in the first events. Earth Day is widely credited with "sparking" the modern environmental movement. Landmark environmental legislation swiftly followed (including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act). The Environmental Protection agency was founded that same year. Twenty years after its launch, Earth Day became a global movement.
You can learn more from the Earth Day Network by linking to this website.
Take part. Learn. Act.
UC ANR research efforts support a healthy and sustainable environment
UC ANR is dedicated to supporting a healthy and sustainable environment. It's part of our core mission. Highlighted below are just a few of the many projects we're working on to protect California's natural resources, build climate-resilient communities and ecosystems, and promote healthy people and communities.
Seeking Street Trees that Can Cope With Climate Change
Trees play a vital role in shading and beautifying California's urban areas. UC ANR researcher Janet Hartin says that:
“Urban areas create heat islands, with dark asphalt surfaces reradiating heat. Cities can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the surrounding environment."
Trees provide other benefits, including improving soil health and stability, providing habitat for wildlife and serving as a source of beauty. But climate change (resulting in reduced rainfall and higher temperatures) can create chronic stress in some street tree species.
To find a solution, UC Cooperative Extension scientists are partnering with the U.S. Forest Service "in an unprecedented 20-year research study to expand the palette of drought-adapted, climate-ready trees for several of the state's climate zones."
“The idea is to look at available but under-planted, drought-tolerant, structurally sound, pest resistant trees for Southern California that do well in even warmer climates,” said Janet Hartin, UCCE horticulture advisor in San Bernardino County.
Learn more - including what tree species might be planted in your area - in this terrific read by Jeannette Warnert.
CDFA and UC ANR join forces to advance Climate-Smart Ag
A new partnership between the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and UCANR aims to advance climate-smart ag in California. More than $1 million has been used to hire 10 UC Cooperative Extension community education specialists, who are being deployed to 10 counties to help farmers participate in CDFA programs that increase the adopting of "smart" farming and ranching practices.
The primary focus is putting into action on-farm solutions to improve (and increase) smart farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Practices that improve soil health, nutrient management, irrigation management, and more will be emphasized.
Learn more about this innovative program here.
Be kind to the Earth by reducing food waste
Nearly 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted and much of that waste ends up in landfills (definitely not good for our environment or the economy). The National Resources Defense Council estimates that the average family of four throws out nearly 1,000 pounds of food each year, wasting roughly $1,500. Consumers as a group waste more food than farms, grocery stores or restaurants. For tips on ways you can reduce #FoodWaste, click here. Related Reading: What a World War I Poster Can Teach Us About #FoodWaste.
4-H Sustainable You! summer camp to be offered in Ventura County
The UCCE Ventura County team will once again be hosting its week-long 4-H Sustainable You! summer day camp at UC's Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC) in Santa Paula. Campers aged 9-12 are invited to spend time on a working farm, learning what it means to be sustainable through fun activities based around the five major themes: Air, Land, Energy, Water, and Food. Registration information can be found here.
For more than 100 years the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program has taught generations of California children about food, agriculture, leadership, and community service using learn-by-doing practices. The California 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology (STEM) Initiative seeks to increase science literacy and help address the growing need for scientists, engineers, and technical experts. 4-H empowers youth with the skills to lead for a lifetime.
Interested in learning more about 4-H in your community? Visit our statewide 4-H program page.
The above photo is one of my favorites. It was taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on Dec. 24, 1968, while in orbit around the moon. It shows the Earth rising for the third time above the lunar horizon. It always serves to remind me that my individual actions do matter, and when considered with the actions of others, contribute to real change ... the "moon shot." Have a great Earth Day!/h3>/h3>