Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #429501

Research Project: Evaluating Strategies to Adapt Northeast Dairy Cropping Systems to Climate Change Projections

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-11130-003-06-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2015
End Date: Aug 31, 2018

To evaluate nitrogen cycling and greenhouse gas emissions in dairy cropping systems under current and projected climate for this century. Specific objectives are to: 1. Evaluate and modify the Integrated Farm System Model as needed to appropriately simulate field measurements of nitrogen dynamics in dairy cropping systems under various management practices. 2. Identify cropping system strategies to adapt to and mitigate climate change. 3. Evaluate strategies for dairy and livestock farmers to conserve nutrients and protect air and water quality with projected climate change.

A Sustainable Dairy Cropping System project supported by a NESARE USDA grant has been collecting field data on production and nutrient losses for six years. The project goal is to sustainably produce the forage, feed and fuel for a 65 cow, 240-acre dairy farm in Pennsylvania and to minimize off-farm inputs. Two cropping systems have been developed to: 1) minimize nutrient and soil loss, build soil organic matter and nutrient pools, and promote biological processes for nutrient acquisition; 2) enhance biological diversity and ecological interactions; and 3) be energetically efficient, productive, profitable, and sustainable. To evaluate the performance of the cropping systems; crop yield and quality, soil health, soil fertility, greenhouse gas emissions, weed, insect, and mycorrhizal populations; energy use and production; and farm profitability are being monitored. Twelve field areas are monitored to compare the impact of manure management strategies on nitrogen, phosphorus, and soil conservation; as well as atmospheric emissions of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Using the crop yields and feed and forage quality results, dairy nutrition and production models are used to predict the performance of the virtual dairy herd. Climate projections for the northeast predict a longer growing season, more precipitation as rain during the winter months, more extreme precipitation events, and variable but likely increased frequency of hot and dry periods in summer. During the six years of the NESARE project, weather conditions have been experienced that are representative of climate projections. The growing season has started earlier than in the past, often with unusually warm and/or wet weather, and there have been extended dry and hot summers with “drought” periods. The Integrated Farm System Model will be used to simulate these dairy production systems under recent weather, and simulated farm performance and environmental impacts will be compared to measured data for model verification. Model changes will be made as needed to assure proper representation of the farming systems under current climate. The farming systems will then be simulated under projected climate data to quantify the effects of climate change. Projected climate data will be obtained through downscaling of climate scenarios projected by a suit of global climate models. Adaptation strategies will be implemented as needed to maintain sustainable production systems. Adaptations will include modified planting and harvesting dates, changes in crop varieties and expanded use of double cropping. Simulations will be used to further refine resilient dairy production systems that reduce emissions and maintain profitability with projected climate change.