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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

2019 Annual Report


Objectives
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.


Approach
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 the 8070-11130-003-00D which ended November 19, 2018. New NP216 OSQR approved project 8070-66000-001-00D, entitled “Sustainable Intensification of Crop and Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems at Multiple Scales” has been established. 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. Throughout this project, scientists have participated substantially in activities targeting small farms. Research results related to air emissions, water quality and overall sustainability apply to farms of all sizes. Our research on nutrient management and manure application has focused on smaller farms of the Northeast with gross annual receipts under $250,000. This project produced or substantially contributed to 36 publications over 3 years and led to the following five accomplishments in previous years as well as one (cf., section 4) in this final year. 1. Long-term field management database. Great interest exists in the ability to mitigate water quality problems through changes in agricultural management. Long-term watershed and farm management datasets are a unique resource for serving research, management and policy arenas, but they are difficult to develop because they must protect the privacy of farmers and land owners without sacrificing the spatially and temporally specific nature of the data. A novel framework was developed for recording land management, water quality and related data that expands the utility of these datasets across the research community and offers a model for other database management efforts. The initial database populated into the framework contains long-term field management information for about fifteen farms and nearly 300 fields within our long-term experimental watershed located in a non-karst portion of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province. This database supports research aimed at helping farmers meet long-term production, land stewardship, and water quality goals. 2. Understanding manure-based phosphorus processes. Watershed modeling is critical for guiding strategies to mitigate non-point source pollution. Current watershed models, such as the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), generally lack explicit representation of surface applied nutrients, a potential problem when forecasting the effects of nutrient management strategies. A new set of soil phosphorus routines was added to SWAT to simulate surface applied manure at field and subwatershed scales. The new routines provided insight into all aspects of nutrient management including method, timing, rate, and form of application. Application of the revised model to the Mahantango Creek watershed in Pennsylvania demonstrated substantial improvements in simulating phosphorus runoff processes, which supports the need to create similar revisions to other agroecosystem watershed models. 3. Subsurface application enhances the benefits of manure redistribution. Moving livestock manure from areas of local nutrient excess to areas of local nutrient deficit is key to the long-term sustainability of our food production systems. Field experiments were conducted in a region that may become a destination for manure redistribution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to assess trade-offs among available methods of applying poultry litter to soils. While corn yields increased with any method of poultry litter application compared to the use of conventional fertilizer, subsurface application provided many environmental and long-term nutrient conservation benefits that were not seen with surface application methods. Results point to the need to include improved manure application technologies as part of agricultural programs that aim to redistribute manures. 4. Modeling silage emissions from farms. Silage contributes to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from dairy farms. In the presence of sunlight, these VOCs react with oxides of nitrogen forming ozone, which can contribute to air pollution and human health concerns. ARS researchers at University Park, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, Davis, developed, evaluated and documented a model for simulating and predicting VOC emissions from silage, which was incorporated into USDA’s Integrated Farm System Model. This revised farm model provides a tool for estimating and evaluating the effects various storage and feeding management strategies have on VOC emissions from farms. Simulation of a California dairy farm showed that most VOC emissions were from feed lying in feed lanes, indicating that strategies to reduce VOC emissions during feeding will be most effective in mitigating overall farm emissions. 5. 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. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2017-13819.


Accomplishments
1. Quantifying the sustainability of beef. The long-term sustainability of beef has become a national and international concern. Although many reports are made on the negative environmental and social impacts of beef, little comprehensive, science-based data exist to support these claims. ARS scientists at University Park, Pennsylvania in collaboration with scientists at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and BASF Corporation conducted a full life cycle assessment (LCA) of U.S. beef using data from a typical cattle production operation and primary packing, processing, retail and restaurant operations along with consumer and waste handling information. This LCA, which includes 10 measures of impact, is the first of its kind for beef and has been third party verified in accordance with international standards. The analysis provides baseline information for comparing beef production systems and measuring the benefits of future improvements in sustainability.


Review Publications
Kibuye, F.A., Gall, H.E., Elkin, K.R., Ayers, B., Veith, T.L., Miller, M., Jacob, S., Hayden, K.R., Watson, J.E., Elliott, H.A. 2018. Fate of pharmaceuticals in a spray-irrigation system: From wastewater to groundwater. Science of the Total Environment. 654:197-208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.442.
Gunn, K.M., Holly, M.A., Veith, T.L., Buda, A.R., Prasad, R., Rotz, C.A., Soder, K.J., Stoner, A. 2019. Projected heat stress challenges and abatement opportunities for U.S. milk production. PLoS One. 14(3):1-21. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214665.