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Title: Conservation practices for climate change

item Delgado, Jorge
item Nearing, Mark
item RICE, CHARLES - Arkansas State University

Submitted to: Advances in Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/17/2013
Publication Date: 7/12/2013
Citation: Delgado, J.A., Nearing, M.A., Rice, C. 2013. Conservation practices for climate change. Advances in Agronomy. 121:47-115.

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture and climate are directly linked to the significant impacts of temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, and atmospheric composition that can affect plant growth and yield responses. Similarly, plant growth responses and yields are linked closely to soil and water resources. The same key soil and water resources are similarly closely linked to climate. The close linkage between agriculture, climate and soil, and water resources contribute to create a complex system that can respond and is sensitive to changes in climate. Due to this close linkage between soil and water resources, and agriculture, the effects of climate change on agriculture is one of the aggregated impacts that transcend the impacts on any one individual component of this complex system. Changes in precipitation, for example, impact the potential of water availability, but the actual amount of available water for crops depend on several factors such as the surface run off, crop residue at the surface, soil texture, soil-water holding capacity, infiltration rate and other factors. Thus the impact of climate change on all these factors will generate an aggregate effect due to a change in precipitation that is not only determined by the change in precipitation amount. It is important to understand that the actual climate change impacts on agriculture is depending on the effect of the aggregated impacts of climate change factors on the key resources of soil and water, as described in the following sections. It’s also important to understand the positive effects of conservation practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change (Delgado et al 2011) as well as how we manage agricultural systems (Lal et al. 2011) also described in the following sections.

Technical Abstract: Climate change presents a major challenge to sustainable land management (USDA NRCS 2010). Several reports have reported that over the last few decades rainfall intensities have also increased in many parts of the world, including in the United States. Without good productive soils and the ecosystem services provided by them to society and life in this planet, the survival of life, and our own species will be in jeopardy. The future changes in climate change that will drive erosion processes will significantly impact soil erosion rates, with higher projected erosion rates for the United States. These higher erosion rates will significantly contribute to lower soil productivity, lower soil organic matter content, lower soil quality, and higher rates of nutrient loss that will contribute to lower the inherent soil fertility needed for maintaining viable economical systems and sustainability. Farmer management adaptations and use of conservation practices to adapt to a changing climate (e.g., no till practices, crop rotations, precision conservation, crop selection and dates of planting, harvest, and tillage) have the potential to greatly reduce soil erosion rates to adapt to this changing climate. Conservation practices will be key and must be used as strategies for adaptation to climate change impacts on the soil resource. Examples of key strategies are the use of conservation tillage, management of crop rotations and crop residue, including use of cover crops where viable, management of livestock grazing intensities, improved management of irrigation systems, use of the technologies and precision conservation, and many other conservation practices have the potential to reduce much or all of the potential acceleration of soil erosion rates that might occur under a climate change that will bring more total rainfall with higher intensity rainfall events or potential higher wind erosion rates due to a drier climate.