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ARS Home » Midwest Area » St. Paul, Minnesota » Plant Science Research » Research » Research Project #438255

Research Project: Improving the Environmental Footprint of Livestock Forage Production Systems by Optimizing Alfalfa Production

Location: Plant Science Research

Project Number: 5062-12210-003-41-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2019
End Date: Aug 31, 2021

Objective:
The overall goal of the project is to examine alfalfa production systems and feed mix rations and optimize production methods and feedstock blends to meet producer’s environmental, livestock, and economic expectations. The first project objective is to document current alfalfa production systems in the region. Using this data, the second objective is to develop likely regional scenarios that would reduce impacts over current production systems. Objective three would analyze these likely production scenarios using LCA, soil carbon modeling, and economic analysis to determine the greenhouse gas, soil quality, water and financial impacts of the scenarios tested. The fourth objective is a regional Extension outreach effort for alfalfa and dairy producers to introduce them to the sustainability concepts and the potential for improving their production systems using the data from this study.

Approach:
We will document current alfalfa production systems in the region; collecting and analyzing such data as tillage, chemical inputs, yields, and post-harvest activities. Using this data, we will develop likely regional scenarios that would reduce impacts over current production systems. This utilizes the data collected on alfalfa systems and reference data for other crops in the production rotation, as found in literature and life cycle analysis (LCA) databases. Next, we will analyze these likely production scenarios using LCA, soil carbon modeling, and economic analysis to determine the greenhouse gas, soil quality, water and financial impacts of the scenarios tested. The ARS contribution to this proposal will be to parameterize and validate Selected process based-models will be parameterized and validate for prediction of the soil carbon and greenhouse gas implications of selected production scenarios. The LCA will be a cradle-to- gate analysis of Midwest regional alfalfa production. The boundaries for the LCA activities will focus the on-farm activities as the foreground of the project, while the foreground activities in the LCA would include all field work, harvest of the material, any processing, and transport of materials. These would be the primary focus of the scenarios analyzed. The background activities would include all the materials brought onto the farm site to carry-out the foreground activities. Infrastructure would not be analyzed. The work will look at life cycle impacts with near term production systems (existing equipment and inputs) in alternative way to optimizes, yields, environmental impacts, or economics. The life cycle work will use attributional methodologies to compare the current production systems and identified important factors for high productivity under the scenarios studied. The primary impacts measured will be the carbon, energy, and water use of the different scenarios examined. Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP), International Dairy Federation (IDF), and International Standards Organization (ISO) will be used as guidelines for appropriate allocation and cutoff methods.