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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: Conservation practices to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change

Authors
item Delgado, Jorge
item Secchi, Silvia -
item Groffman, Peter -
item Nearing, Mark
item Goddard, Tom -
item Reicocky, Don -
item Lal, Rattan -
item Salon, Paul -
item Kitchen, Newell
item Rice, Chuck -
item Towery, Dan -

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: April 26, 2011
Publication Date: July 18, 2011
Citation: Delgado, J.A., Secchi, S., Groffman, P., Nearing, M.A., Goddard, T., Reicocky, D., Lal, R., Salon, P., Kitchen, N.R., Rice, C., Towery, D. 2011. Conservation practices to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society. 66(a):118A-129A.

Interpretive Summary: Climate change, in combination with the expanding human population, presents a formidable food security challenge: how will we feed a world population that is expected to grow by an additional 2½ to 3 billion people by 2050? Population growth and the dynamics of climate change will also exacerbate other issues such as desertification, deforestation, erosion, degradation of water quality and depletion of water resources, further complicating the challenge of food security. These factors, together with the fact that energy prices are projected to increase in the future, which will increase the cost of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and fuel, make the future of food security a major concern that will need to be addressed in the next four decades. Additionally, climate change can increase potential erosion risks, which can further lower agricultural productivity. Since there is a direct relationship between soil and water conservation practices and maintaining and/or increasing productivity, without the application of the best soil and water conservation practices during the next four decades it will be difficult to maintain the productivity levels that are needed to feed the population expected by 2050. A sound scientific approach applying concepts in agronomy, soil science and conservation will be needed to maintain sustainable and productive agricultural systems for stable food security. With so many large population centers of millions of people who need a steady supply of food, a supply which comes from agricultural fields, ranches, and other agroecosystems that could significantly be impacted by projected climate change, it is increasingly becoming accepted that systems around the globe will need to apply basic principles of conservation agriculture to enhancing agronomic productivity. Hugh Hammond Bennett, “the father of soil conservation,” once said, “From every conceivable angle—economic, social, cultural, public health, national defense—conservation of natural resources is an objective on which all should agree.” Hammond contributions were part of a larger effort to develop a scientifically-sound conservation system, a system that today could serve as a framework for climate change mitigation, and adaptation. This document is an overview of the science on conservation practices that could potentially be used to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Following is a list that summarizes some basic principles based on a review of peer-reviewed scientific publications. These principles be considered, discussed and even modified as new findings are brought to light that can be used to improve conservation. Meetings of professional scientific societies provide opportunities for scientists, conservation practitioners, consultants, farmers and the general public to get together to share ideas, and could be great for a for discussing the principles summarized in this document. This review of the current science strongly suggests that the future of the planet’s food security depends on are soils managed today. The challenge is to maximize soil and water conservation and develop sustainable systems which mitigate and adapt to changing climate.

Technical Abstract: Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere by human activities have increased radiative forcing and caused an increase in the global mean temperature of approximately 0.74°C over the past century. In terms of soil conservation, expected consequences of future climate change include changes to soil erosion rates and associated water quality problems, as well as the need to adjust the conservation planning process to meet continually changing rainfall intensities. The threat of climate change, together with other concerns, could contribute to the “perfect storm” that will impact food security and resource availability if we do not act to prepare ourselves for it. Some of these concerns that can interact with climate change and extreme weather events are desertification, deforestation, depletion of groundwater resources, higher energy costs, plant diseases, and population growth and higher demand for food production. As we look ahead to the next four decades, we must maximize agricultural production, due to the continuously growing food demand that comes with world population growth, while also maximizing soil and water conservation. This document reviews the science of conservation farming and climate change. Although there are no silver bullets that will address every site-specific situation, the literature suggests that there are practices that are beneficial in certain situations. There is the need for additional research, transfer/dissemination of information, and application of soil and water conservation programs that integrate maximum agricultural productivity with practices that can mitigate climate change and/or help adapt to it. The advantages of bioenergy programs that minimize environmental impacts are also reviewed, as well as policy tools that can be used to apply conservation programs. Whatever decisions societies make, there are some basic principles that need to be considered in conservation agriculture: 1) minimum soil tillage disturbance; 2) diverse crop rotations and/or cover crops; and 3) continuous plant residue cover, collectively described as no-till/direct seeding systems. Wherever it is economically viable, farmers should integrate all aspects of conservation agriculture as part of agriculture’s transition to sustainability. The use of site-specific precision conservation practices can be used to increase the conservation effectiveness. There is a definite need for more scientific research to enhance food production while minimizing human impact on environmental quality. The expanding global population requires more research on developing sustainable food production systems on very limited and fragile soil systems that support our existence. More conservation with emphasis on minimum soil disturbance and maximum carbon management will be required for sustainable production important to future generations.

Last Modified: 9/20/2014
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