Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #428423

Research Project: Mitigating Emissions and Adapting Farm Systems to Climate Variability

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

2018 Annual Report

1. Quantify and develop practices to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and pollutants from animal production systems. 1a. Measure greenhouse gas emissions from crop and pasture lands and the reductions obtained through mitigation treatments. 1b. Refine and evaluate emission models for improved prediction of greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation strategies for animal, manure, crop, and pasture components of livestock production. 1c. Evaluate the impact of improvements in animal production facility infrastructure on greenhouse and other gas emissions and water quality. 2. Determine the sensitivity of farm systems and watersheds to climate variability and evaluate strategies for adapting to climate change. 2a. Quantify the effects of projected future climate on dairy and beef production systems and determine the adaptation strategies required to maintain sustainable production systems under future climate variability. 2b. Quantify the effects of projected future climate on nitrogen and phosphorus transformations and losses for watersheds in the Northeast. 2c. Support Northeast Climate Hub activities by developing and providing information on regional climate research and extension capacity, stakeholder vulnerability assessments, and adaptation strategies for the dairy and beef industries including animal, field crop, hay and pasture production, and ecosystem services. 3. Quantify the sustainability of beef and dairy production systems through life cycle assessment and prioritize areas for improvement. 3a. Document production practices and determine farm-gate environmental footprints for beef cattle production throughout the United States. 3b. Evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of alternative practices of milk production in important dairy regions of the United States.

Long-term monitoring of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions will be conducted in support of Long Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR). University Park is part of the recently-formed Dairy Agroecosystem Working Group (DAWG) along with ARS units in Idaho, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. DAWG has adopted a framework in concert with the LTAR network to provide data, technologies and decision support tools that enable dairy producers to adapt to current and future production and environmental demands. Air and water quality impacts, environmental footprints, and farm economic viability of dairy production systems will be assessed through detailed case studies of geographically distinct dairy production systems in each of our regions. Development and evaluation of farm-scale models [Integrated Farm System Model(IFSM) and DairyGEM] will continue. As new process information becomes available, component models used to predict emissions will be revised and evaluated to improve prediction accuracy. Mitigation strategies will be simulated and evaluated to assess interactions within and overall impacts on farm production systems. Empirically downscaled daily climate files will be developed by collaborators at Texas Tech University for approximately 80 cattle producing locations of the U.S. using 9 climate models and two long term greenhouse gas emission scenarios (current emission levels, RCP=8.5 and reduced emission levels, RCP=4.5). Representative dairy farms will be simulated using IFSM with current and projected future climate, and adaptation strategies will be determined to maintain profitable and environmentally sustainable production. The downscaled climate files will also be used to model two watersheds (one karst, one non-karst) in the Ridge and Valley physiographic region of the Upper Chesapeake Bay Basin. Current practices will be simulated using historical climate data and a modified version of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, called TopoSWAT. These same regional watersheds will then be simulated under management practices described in the Bay Watershed Implementation Plan’s (WIPs) for meeting the Chesapeake Bay Loading Reduction goals of 2025. Collaboration continues with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in a national assessment of the sustainability of beef. Producer surveys and visits are being conducted for each of seven geographic regions to determine common production practices. Representative cattle operations are defined and simulated with IFSM to quantify the performance and farm-gate environmental impacts of production systems in each region. This information will be used in regional and national life cycle assessments to benchmark the environmental footprints and overall sustainability of beef production. Information developed will be used to support the Northeast Climate Hub. In collaboration with Climate Hub university partners, surveys and stakeholder interviews will be conducted to determine perceived challenges relating to climate change and variability and information needs to meet those challenges. A climate adaptation workbook developed by the US Forest Service will be modified for use on agricultural lands.

Progress Report
This is the final report for project 8070-11130-003-00D, which terminated in August 2018. Progress was made on all three objectives and their subobjectives, all of which fall under National Program 216, Component 3, Production system effects on natural resources and Component 4, Integration of sustainability goals. Progress on this project primarily focuses on Problem 3A, Environmental quality, and Problem 4B, Synthesis and modeling. Under Objective 1a, impacts of plant species composition and manure management in dairy forage systems were evaluated in cooperation with Penn State. Greater inclusion of legumes in forage rotation and injecting manure reduced the need for supplemental additions of mineral nitrogen fertilizers. However nitrous oxide emissions were not significantly changed by increasing reliance on legumes as a nitrogen source and were increased when manure was injected. Baseline carbon dioxide emissions were established for a dairy forage rotation using Eddy Covariance measurements. Under Objective 1b, models were developed, evaluated and published that predict volatile organic compound emissions from silage and nitrogen and carbon emissions from compost facilities on dairy farms. These component models were integrated into the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM), a whole farm model that is widely distributed to other researchers and practitioners for evaluating the environmental impacts of farms. Greenhouse gas emissions from dairy forage rotations of varying plant species composition were evaluated with the DayCent model and correlated with measured nitrous oxide emission data. Predicted emissions correlated weakly with measured data, and additional work to refine input data for plant species is needed to improve model predictions. Under Objective 1c, a series of farm simulations were completed that evaluated various best management practices (BMPs) for reducing greenhouse gas, nitrogen and phosphorus emissions from dairy farms in the Northeastern U.S. Five dietary manipulations, four alternative manure handling strategies, and six alternatives for field management, as well as combinations of the best performing individual practices were evaluated. Our results show that reductions in the carbon footprint expressed per unit of milk are greatest with individual manure management changes followed by dietary manipulations. Field management BMPs had a modest effect on reducing the carbon footprint, but showed substantial potential to reduce the reactive nitrogen and phosphorus losses. With a combination of practices, all emissions were reduced about 40% while increasing milk production and farm profitability. Under Objective 2a, a series of farm simulations were conducted for dairy farms in New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to compare performance, economics and environmental impacts under recent weather and projected mid-century climate. Farm performance and profitability generally decreased when farms were simulated for mid-century climate, and environmental impacts increased. Results obtained, though, varied greatly depending upon the global climate model used to create the projected weather. Adapting farms to future climate by adjusting planting and harvest schedules and adding a double crop of winter small grain after corn silage offset many of the negative impacts providing more productive and profitable farms than found using recent weather. Under obOective 2b, projected climate data for cattle-producing locations across climatic regions of the U.S. were analyzed for three periods: early, mid, and late 21st century. At a watershed-scale, trends and variability of average and extreme events were studied to determine potential impacts on hydrologic systems and nutrient loadings. Additionally, corresponding increases in annual frequency of cattle heat stress, which reduces milk production, were calculated. Although heat abatement strategies helped lower milk production losses, they were not always successful at preventing economic losses. Using Topo-SWAT, a watershed-scale water quality simulation model, adaptation strategies including crop rotation diversification with incorporation of catch crops were simulated to estimate the potential for offsetting increased summer moisture deficits and reducing erosion and nutrient runoff. These strategies take advantage of longer growing seasons and provide a continuous cover to agricultural lands. Modeling of both karst and non-karst watersheds demonstrated that by focusing management-based adaptation strategies in areas prone to saturation excess and erosion, 2025 nutrient reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay could be met, or nearly met, in a cost-effective manner. Modifications to incorporate dynamic carbon dioxide changes, along with other projected climatic inputs, into Topo-SWAT were made and tested to ensure that the full impact of the projected climatic changes on crop evapotranspiration were considered. Under Objective 2c, ongoing collaboration with Northeast Climate Hub staff has provided technical evaluation and input for a range of products providing farmers and foresters with information to guide climate adaptation decisions. Hub products have included factsheets, newsletters, educational videos, surveys, peer-reviewed assessments, and workshops. Under Objective 3a, surveys and visits to beef cattle operations throughout the U.S. were completed, representative operations were developed for each region, and their environmental impacts were determined. Data from all region were combined to form a national analysis of the environmental footprints of beef cattle production. Average annual greenhouse gas and reactive nitrogen emissions were 244 ± 26 Tg CO2e and 1789 ± 138 Gg N, respectively. Total fossil energy use was found to be 577 ± 55 PJ and blue water consumption was 22.4 ± 3.4 Pg. These data generated by the Integrated Farm System model are now linked to the Simapro Life Cycle Assessment tool and a full life cycle assessment of beef is being conducted by collaborators at the University of Arkansas. Under Objective 3b, the Integrated Farm System Model was used to evaluate and compare nitrogen cycles and losses from representative dairy farms in the major dairy regions of the U.S. The results demonstrate that the importance of various environmental impacts of dairies varies among regions. For example, ammonia emissions are a major loss in the dry climates of the West while nitrate and nitrous oxide losses of nitrogen are of most concern in the humid climate of the East. Farm survey data gathered by the USDA Economic Research Service were extensively analyzed for dairy farms in Pennsylvania to develop representative farms throughout the state. These farms were simulated to determine the state level impact of dairy farming. This procedure for a state level analysis is to be applied to other major dairy states. In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, eight small, grass-based dairy farms were visited in Pennsylvania where data on production characteristics were gathered and simulations were set up to analyze these production systems using the Integrated Farm system Model. Analyses are being conducted to compare these low-input production practices to those of traditional confinement dairies in Pennsylvania.

1. A vision for nutrient management in U.S. dairy. USDA’s Dairy Agriculture Working Group (DAWG) is a research collaboration that was established to support efforts to improve the sustainability of U.S. dairy farming systems. The group includes research teams focused on the major dairy producing regions of the West (Colorado, Idaho), Great Plains (Minnesota), Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin), South (Texas) and Northeast (New York, Pennsylvania). Working with industry partners, research from DAWG provides insight into the scope of nutrient management concerns on dairy operations, from feeding regimes to better balance farmgate nutrients and improve dietary nutrient use efficiency, to farmstead management to control emissions and discharges of nutrients, to manure management that improves nutrient recovery by crops and reduce environmental losses. Holly, M.A., Kleinman, P.J., Bryant, R.B., Bjorneberg, D.L., Church, C., Baker, J.M., Boggess, M.V., Chintala, R., Feyereisen, G.W., Gamble, J.D., Leytem, A.B., Reed, K., Rotz, C.A., Vadas, P.A., Waldrip, H., Brauer, D.K. 2018. Identifying challenges and opportunities for improved nutrient management through U.S.D.A's Dairy Agroecosystem Working Group. Journal of Dairy Science. 101-110. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-13819.

Review Publications
Liu, J., Veith, T.L., Collick, A.S., Kleinman, P.J., Beegle, D.B., Bryant, R.B. 2017. Seasonal manure application timing and storage effects on field and watershed level phosphorus losses. Journal of Environmental Quality. 46:1403-1412. doi: 10.2134/jeq2017.04.0150.
Veith, T.L., Goslee, S.C., Beegle, D.B., Weld, J.L., Kleinman, P.J. 2017. Analyzing the distribution of hydrogeomorphic characteristics across Pennsylvania as a precursor to phosphorus index modifications. Journal of Environmental Quality. 46:1365-1371. doi: 10.2134/jeq2016.10.0416.
Pereira, C.H., Patino, H.O., Hoshide, A.K., Abreu, D.C., Rotz, C.A., Nabinger, C. 2018. Grazing supplementation and crop diversification on beef farm simulations in southern Brazil: a case study. Agricultural Systems. 162:1-9.
Rotz, C.A., Asem-Hiablie, S., Sandlin, J.D., Sandlin, M.R., Stout, R.C. 2018. Management characteristics of beef cattle production in Hawaii. Professional Animal Scientist. 34(2):167-176.
Asem-Hiablie, S., Rotz, C.A., Stout, R.C., Fisher, K. 2017. Management characteristics of beef cattle production in the western United States. Professional Animal Scientist.33(4):461-471.
Gil, J.D., Garrett, R.D., Rotz, C.A., Daioglou, V., Valentim, J., Pires, G.F., Costa, M.H., Lopes, L. 2018. Tradeoffs in the quest for climate smart agricultural intensification in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Environmental Research Letters. 13:1-12.
Hristov, A., Degaetano, A., Rotz, C.A., Felix, T., Skinner, R.H., Li, H., Patterson, P., Roth, G., Hall, M., Ott, T., Baumgard, L., Staniar, W., Hulet, R., Dell, C.J., Brito, A., Hollinger, D. 2017. Climate change effects on livestock in the Northeast U.S. and strategies for adaptation. Climatic Change.
Liu, J., Kleinman, P.J., Aronsson, H., Bechmann, M., Geegle, D., Bryant, R.B., Flaten, D., Liu, H., Mcdowell, R., Robinson, T., Sharpley, A., Veith, T.L. 2018. A review of regulations and guidelines related to winter manure application. Ambio. 1-14.
Thivierge, M., Jego, G., Belanger, G., Chantigny, M., Rotz, C.A., Charbonneau, E., Baron, V., Nolan, S., Qian, B. 2017. Projecting trends in agronomic, economic, and environmental performance of Canadian dairy farms under future climate conditions. Agricultural Systems. 157:241-257. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2017.07.003.
Gall, H.E., Schultz, D., Veith, T.L., Goslee, S.C., Mejia, A., Harman, C., Raj, C., Patterson, P.H. 2018. The effects of disproportional load contributions on quantifying vegetated filter strip sediment trapping efficiencies. Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment (SERRA). 1-12.
Holly, M.A., Kleinman, P.J., Bryant, R.B., Bjorneberg, D.L., Church, C., Baker, M.E., Boggess, M.V., Chintala, R., Feyereisen, G.W., Gamble, J.D., Leytem, A.B., Reed, K., Rotz, C.A., Vadas, P.A., Waldrip, H., Brauer, D.K. 2018. Identifying challenges and opportunities for improved nutrient management through U.S.D.A's Dairy Agroecosystem Working Group. Journal of Dairy Science. 101:1-10.
Kleinman, P.J., Sharpley, A.N., Buda, A.R., Easton, Z.M., Lory, J.A., Osmond, D.L., Radcliffe, D.E., Nelson, N.O., Veith, T.L., Doody, D.G. 2017. The promise, practice and state of planning tools to assess site vulnerability to runoff phosphorus loss. Journal of Environmental Quality. 46(6):1243-1249.
Prasad, R., Gunn, K.M., Rotz, C.A., Karsten, H., Roth, G., Buda, A.R., Stoner, A. 2018. Projected climate and agronomic implications for corn production in the Northeastern United States. Global Change Biology. 13(6):e0198623.
Rotz, C.A. 2018. Modeling greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science. 101(7):6675-6690.
Asem-Hiablie, S., Rotz, C.A., Battagliese, T., Stackhouse-Lawson, K. 2018. A life cycle assessment of the environmental impacts of beef in the united states. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 1-15.