Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: Nick Clark

Dairy’s Net Zero Initiative gets boost with $10 million research grant

The new Net Zero Initiative project will examine the effects of value-added dairy manure products. Composted dairy manure used as fertilizer shown in an almond orchard. Photo by Sat Darshan Khalsa

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research has awarded a $10 million grant to support U.S. dairy's Net Zero Initiative as a critical on-farm pathway to advance the industrywide 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals set through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

In California, UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists will collaborate on the nationwide project addressing carbon sequestration, soil health and nitrogen management.

"The Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research grant in partnership with Soil Health Institute and Dairy Research Institute are funding research that will positively impact the future of animal and plant agriculture in a world with increasingly limited natural resources,” said Deanne Meyer, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis, who studies livestock waste management. 

Working with California dairy forage and almond producers, UC Cooperative Extension scientists and technicians will evaluate and demonstrate the impacts of using manure products as fertilizer in combination with more traditional soil conservation practices.

“With this research, there's a potential to expand the use of dairy manure products beyond forage crops to crops such as almonds,” said Nick Clark, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Fresno and Tulare counties. “We expect results to demonstrate that groundwater quality and quantity can be protected and preserved, and crop yields can be maintained without increasing net greenhouse gas emissions from crop production.”

Clark added, “We look forward to working with our local producers and connecting with our national partners and collaborators to examine and demonstrate the best practical solutions that science has to offer for farming in tomorrow's world."

California dairy operators who would like to participate in the experiment may contact Clark for more information at neclark@ucanr.edu.

Data from the “Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration: Building soil health to reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality and enable new economic benefits” project will be broadly shared among the dairy community. The six-year project will provide measurement-based assessments of dairy's greenhouse gas footprint for feed production. It will also set the stage for new market opportunities related to carbon, water quality and soil health.

“Addressing the U.S. dairy industry's emissions is a critical solution to climate change,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “I know dairy farmers are working hard to decrease their environmental footprint and I'm thrilled to support their efforts by advancing research needed to adopt climate-smart practices on dairy farms across the country.”

Through foundational science, on-farm pilots and development of new product markets, the Net Zero Initiative aims to knock down barriers and create incentives for farmers that will lead to economic viability and positive environmental impact.

“After six years, we will have data that accurately reflect our farms' greenhouse gas footprint for dairy crop rotations with consideration for soil health management practices and new manure-based products,” said Jim Wallace, Dairy Management Inc. senior vice president of environmental research. “We expect to develop critical insights that link soil health outcomes, such as carbon sequestration, with practice and technology adoption. This will provide important background information to support the development of new carbon and water quality markets.”  

The project will be executed across four dairy regions responsible for about 80% of U.S. milk production: Northeast, Lakes, Mountain and Pacific. In addition to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis, collaborators include the Soil Health Institute and leading dairy research institutions, including Cornell University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, University of Vermont, and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research in Idaho.

Dozens of dairies representing climates and soils of these major production regions will participate in a baseline survey of soil health and carbon storage. Additionally, eight farms, including five operating dairies, two university research dairies and one USDA ARS research farm, will participate in the project. These pilots will be used to engage farmers in soil health management practices and monitor changes in greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon storage, soil health and water quality. 

The FFAR grant will be matched by financial contributions from Net Zero Initiative partners such as Nestlé, the dairy industry, including Newtrient, and in-kind support for a total of $23.2 million. The funds will be managed by the Dairy Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity founded and staffed by Dairy Management Inc., whose scientists will serve as the project leads to address research gaps in feed production and manure-based fertilizers.

About the partners

FFAR builds public-private partnerships to support bold science that fills critical research gaps. Working with partners across the private and public sectors, FFAR identifies urgent challenges facing the food and agriculture industry and funds research to develop solutions.

NZI is an industrywide effort led by six national dairy organizations: Dairy Management Inc., Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, International Dairy Foods Association, Newtrient, National Milk Producers Federation and the U.S. Dairy Export Council. This collaboration represents a critical pathway on U.S. dairy's sustainability journey.

For more information about dairy sustainability, visit www.usdairy.com/sustainability.

Posted on Thursday, July 1, 2021 at 3:01 PM
Tags: dairy (38), Deanne Meyer (3), groundwater (22), Nick Clark (2)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

UCCE advisor helps dairy operators strike a delicate balance to protect groundwater

Over the last 20 years, UC research has shown that dairies in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys are potentially major contributors of nitrate and salts in groundwater. To maintain the quality of this irreplaceable natural resource, the California Water Resources Control Board has ramped up regulations to ensure that diary manure and wastewater application isn't contaminating the aquifer. 

UC Cooperative Extension advisor Nick Clark is helping farmers in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties work through the process and continue producing crops sustainably now and in the future. He was hired in 2015 as the agronomy and nutrient management advisor, a title that reflects the importance of understanding the nutrient cycle and extending information to producers. Three other UCCE advisors are also focused on nutrient management.

UC Cooperative Extension agronomy and nutrient management advisor Nick Clark.

Clark is working with dairy farmers who are producing crops to feed their herds, as well as farmers who are producing agronomic crops – such as silage corn, forage sorghum, wheat, triticale, alfalfa, rye and oats – to sell to dairies.

“These farmers operate under the microscope of several agencies for complying with environmental regulations and ordinances,” Clark said. Clark informs growers about the fate of nutrients in plants and soil and rules in place to protect water quality, helping them stay in compliance with government regulations. “Water quality regulations are becoming more strict, more complex and more specific.”

At the same time, some of the finer details about nutrient availability are not yet well understood.

Working closely with Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers, a groundwater engineering and consulting firm, Clark and colleagues have set up research trials on four commercial dairies in the San Joaquin Valley and one semi-research dairy farm to replicate a variety of treatments.

 “The idea is to take a much closer look at nitrogen cycling in soil and plants to develop precise data about when plant development allows the crop to take up nitrogen,” Clark said. “The nitrogen application needs to be made so it is in the form plants need when the plants can use it. Otherwise, there is an increased chance it can percolate below the root zone and, eventually, into groundwater.”

Nutrient cycling involves advanced science. The majority of nitrogen content of manure is bound up in an organic molecule, which is not plant available. Plants only take up mineral forms of nitrogen – ammonium or nitrate. When the manure is in the soil, its chemistry changes. Timing by which this happens, Clark said, is extremely variable. Composition of manure, air and soil temperature, soil moisture, and soil microbiota all come into play.

“The research is trying to elicit information for Central Valley dairy farmers as to the best time, best rate and methods of application in order to fertilize crops without losing nitrogen to the groundwater,” Clark said.

Another factor that dairy farmers will have to consider is the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The law, passed by the California Legislature during the 2011-2016 drought, creates local agencies to monitor groundwater extraction and bring that into balance with groundwater replenishment.

Diary operators are facing these new groundwater quality and quantity regulations at the same time new pressures from climate change are impacting their operations. Clark and his colleagues are also addressing climate change mitigation, adaption and resilience.

“We are looking into alternative feed crops for dairies that might help reduce the amount of irrigation water required to grow crops without sacrificing animal nutrition and milk yield,” Clark said.

One promising option is sorghum. UC Cooperative Extension scientists Jennifer Heguy, Jeffery Dahlberg and Deanne Meyer have been collecting data for a number of years on the crop's nutritional value and impact on milk yield. Another potential feed crop is climate-resilient sugar beets.

“Sugar beets have been used in other parts of the United States and the world as cattle feed, but not as much in the San Joaquin Valley,” Clark said.

He is working with UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist Steven Kaffka and UCCE animal science specialist Peter Robinson to refine knowledge about sugar beet production under Central California conditions.

“Sugar beets grow readily in the winter in California, so we can take advantage of winter rainfall and a low irrigation requirement. That may help mitigate climate change impacts,” Clark said.

Climate change mitigation may also be achieved on dairy farms by modifying manure application timing and procedure. Applications of manure to cropland has an impact on emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Reducing the amount of manure applications on cropland and incorporating manure solids into the soil may be ways for dairy farmers to reduce their facilities' greenhouse gas emissions.

“We need to know a whole lot more to help farmers to stay in compliance and to deal with farming under new constraints,” Clark said. “Our research objectives are never static, because everything is shifting so quickly.”

Posted on Monday, April 13, 2020 at 12:03 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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