2010 Annual Report
Biophysical constraints and ecological compatibilities of diverse agro-ecosystems. Climate change will disrupt many agro-ecosystem functions, alter their capacity to provide goods and services and render them more susceptible to degradation. Strategies are needed to help agro-ecosystems to become sustainable and be able to respond or adapt to climate change. ARS researchers at Morris, MN, and Brookings, SD, determined that stability and resilience are necessary qualities of agricultural production systems that can adapt to climate variability. Diversifying, incorporating crop genetics and properly managing natural resources can improve production systems. Farmers, crop consultants and agronomists will benefit from using potential adaptation and mitigation strategies to intensify sustainable agricultural production, and optimize and diversify conventional and organic agro-ecosystems.
Land application of biochar produced from pyrolysis should be approached with caution. Biochar created by pyrolysis, a chemical breakdown of material with heat, pressure and low oxygen, might be able to improve soil fertility and sequester carbon if put on the land. However, some biochars may contain potentially toxic compounds carried over from the feedstock, for example, poultry litter. With the use of laboratory incubations, ARS researchers at Morris, MN, discovered poultry litter in high concentrations killed earthworms; however, biochar made from pine chips did not harm earthworms. This research was the first indication that a biochar could cause harm to a soil organism. Recommendations for proper use of biochar as a soil amendment are needed. This research generates information researchers and policymakers need to determine recommendations and regulate use of biochar made by pyrolysis for land application.