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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Management Practices to Mitigate Global Climate Change, Enhance Bio-Energy Production, Increase Soil-C Stocks & Sustain Soil Productivity...

Location: Soil Plant Nutrient Research (SPNR)

Title: Soil management to mitigate climate change

Authors
item Lal, Rattan -
item Delgado, Jorge
item Salon, P -
item Dell, Curtis
item Groffman, P -
item Miller, N -
item Rotz, Clarence

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 31, 2011
Publication Date: July 18, 2011
Citation: Lal, R., Delgado, J.A., Salon, P.R., Dell, C.J., Groffman, P., Miller, N., Rotz, C.A. 2011. Soil management to mitigate climate change. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 66(1):276-285.

Interpretive Summary: It has been reported by several researchers that the future of food security is questionable due to the increased demands that will come from population growth and the potential impacts of climate change on agricultural production. We propose that soil management can be one of our best tools for climate change mitigation and adaptation. If we are going to be able to handle the challenges that come with climate change, we will need to maximize soil and water conservation via soil management to maintain (and even increase, where possible) agricultural food production per unit of land. The way we manage soils and crop residue now, will have an impact on the quality of soil and water resources that future generations will need for food security. This paper presents several viable soil management options that can be used to mitigate climate change and to help us to adapt to climate change. Soil management can potentially contribute to a safety net for future generations, but we need to minimize soil erosion, and to minimize the threat of potentially greater soil erosion that may come with climate change. Increasing carbon and nitrogen sequestration by returning crop residue to the land will improve soil quality, and generally speaking, practices that contribute to carbon sequestration will also help minimize soil erosion and maintain soil quality. Nitrogen management can also be a key component in the mitigation of climate change; for example, increasing nitrogen use efficiencies and reducing the direct and indirect emissions of N2O could potentially mitigate climate change. Similarly, by sequestering nitrogen and carbon in soil organic matter and increasing nitrogen cycling, along with implenting other conservation practices such as using cover crops or including a leguminous crop in the rotation, we can increase the potential for soils to cycle more nitrogen. The best management solutions to the problem of agricultural N loss will likely require a portfolio approach in which different technologies are used in different combinations to address site-specific challenges and incentives may be necessary to encourage the implementation of these practices.

Technical Abstract: Climate change has been identified as a global issue that is adversely impacting the environment (USEPA, 2010; USDA NRCS, 2010), yet policymakers and members of the public may not be aware of the pivotal role that the earth’s soils play as a source and a sink of radiatively-active gases. Additionally, it is increasingly being reported that food security is a concern, due to the food demands that are anticipated to come from future population growth, as well as the impacts anticipated from climate change. Erosion, as well as other current problems that can cause losses in soil productivity, may be worsened as climate change progresses. How we manage soils today will have an impact on the quality of soil and water resources that will be depended upon for food security. Soil management is one of the most powerful tools we have as we work to mitigate climate change and adapt to it. If the planet’s agroecosystems are to be able to handle the future’s challenges from climate change, we will need to use this tool as effectively as possible to maximize soil and water conservation and to maintain and even increase productivity. Managing soil to sequester carbon will be key for ensuring future food security for the world. In addition to soil management, conservation practices such as no-till, conservation tillage, return of crop residue to increase nutrient cycling, and other field and off-site conservation practices will be needed to mitigate climate change. This paper presents several viable soil management practices that can be used to mitigate climate change and to help us to adapt to climate change. Carbon management, along with nitrogen management, can help conserve resources for future generations, but soil erosion needs to be minimized. Adding crop residue to the land to increase carbon and nitrogen sequestration will help improve the quality of our soils. In general, practices that contribute to carbon sequestration, such as no-till and conservation tillage, will also help minimize soil erosion and maintain soil quality. It is clear that soil management is key for mitigation of climate change, since soils can sequester large quantities of atmospheric carbon across worldwide agroecosystems. Soil management for climate change mitigation and adaptation is key for environmental conservation, sustainability of cropping systems, soil and water quality, and food security.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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