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Computer Model Can Help Farmers Manage Carbon / February 16, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Photo: ARS soil scientists Marlen Eve (left) and Ron Follett are searching for ways to collect, or sequester, this CO2 with vegetation. Link to photo information

Read: more detailed story about carbon storage and its potential economic implications appears in Agricultural Research.

Computer Model Can Help Farmers Manage Carbon

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
February 16, 2001

A new computer model developed by the Agricultural Research Service will help farmers choose management practices that store carbon in the soil. The stored carbon plays a vital role in soil fertility and stability, and carbon that’s stored in the soil is kept out of the atmosphere, where it forms the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The new model, called CQESTR (pronounced “sequester”) takes user-defined tillage practices and time periods, and computes how much organic matter would be stored in--or lost from--the soil for a given scenario. For example, a user could discover whether changing briefly to conventional tillage from no-till would have an unacceptable impact on carbon storage. In the future, quantifying carbon storage may have economic benefits.

A unique feature of the model is a part that uses average air temperature, soil water and nitrogen availability to determine the rate at which microbes decompose crop residues and soil organic matter, releasing carbon dioxide.

CQESTR is undergoing final testing and should be available later this year. It runs on a personal computer with Windows, 5 megabytes of disk space and 32 megabytes of RAM.

Users also need access to files from a more sophisticated program called RUSLE, or the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation. RUSLE is sold commercially, and the files may be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Likely users, such as crop advisors, probably have access to RUSLE already.

A more detailed story about carbon storage and its potential economic implications appears in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the USDA.

Scientific contact: Ronald Rickman, ARS Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center, Pendleton, Ore., phone (541) 278-4380, fax (541) 278-4372, Ronald.Rickman@orst.edu.

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