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  • Raju Titus
    Bookmark and Share 6/12/2009 10:27:00 AM Agricultural, Forestry Practices Can Increase Carbon Sequestration K-State Scientist Outlines Ag Practices to Help
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 12, 2009
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      6/12/2009 10:27:00 AM

      Agricultural, Forestry Practices Can Increase Carbon Sequestration



      K-State Scientist Outlines Ag Practices to Help Mitigate Climate Change



      MANHATTAN, Kan. - Agriculture alone may not be able to mitigate global
      climate change, but certain practices can make a positive difference
      and in some cases, are cost-saving to producers, according to Chuck
      Rice, who is a University Distinguished Professor at Kansas State
      University.



      Several agricultural and forestry practices can increase carbon
      sequestration, said Rice, who leads a team of scientists at 10
      universities that comprises the Consortium for Agricultural Soils
      Mitigation of Greenhouse Gasses (CASMGS). He briefed members of the
      Senate Agriculture Committee in March and a Congressional committee of
      House and Senate members in April on the topic.



      Rice, who is an agronomist, described the carbon sequestration
      practices that can be implemented on U.S. farms, including what they
      are and how they work:



      * Continuous no-till: Producing crops without tilling the soil. There
      are variations on this, such as strip-till, reduced tillage, and
      ridge-till, but the research on whether those variations can sequester
      carbon is mixed. When soil is tilled, air is mixed into the soil and
      organic matter is oxidized by soil microbes, releasing a portion of
      the stored soil carbon. By avoiding all tillage, no-till production
      avoids oxidizing organic matter, so more of the plant organic carbon
      remains in the soil every year. Tillage also makes the soil more
      susceptible to water and wind erosion, and the organic fraction of the
      soil is especially vulnerable to these losses. Also, no-till farming
      reduces fuel use, which cuts CO2 emissions. Applying manure to the
      soil, along with no-till farming, often results in even greater levels
      of carbon sequestration.



      * Increased crop biomass production: Producing more biomass per acre
      per year. Examples include the production of higher crop or forage
      yields, more intensive rotations, cover crop production, elimination
      of unplanted fallow periods, and the use of higher residue crops, such
      as corn, grain sorghum, and wheat.



      More plant production leads to more carbon being fixed by the plants
      into organic materials in roots, stems, leaves, and seed. Part of this
      organic carbon remains in the soil, and eventually becomes
      incorporated into soil organic carbon. When fields are fallowed, no
      crop is produced and this reduces the amount of plant material
      entering the soil system. Continuous cropping, or using cover crops to
      replace fallow, keeps plant material production at the highest
      possible level, increasing soil carbon levels.



      * New grass plantings: Any new perennial grass plantings, such as
      Conservation Reserve Program ground, new pasture ground, reclaimed
      land, grass waterways, and buffer strips. Perennial grass plantings
      establish long-term areas of plant material on soil that is
      undisturbed by tillage. Grasses incorporate considerable carbon into
      the soil through photosynthesis, and the production of roots and stems
      in the soil. This organic material eventually decomposes and adds to
      the soil organic carbon pool in the soil. As grass stands mature over
      a period of 20 to 30 years, they reach a natural equilibrium in which
      carbon input through photosynthesis is balanced by carbon emissions
      through respiration.



      * Soil conservation practices: Terraces, grass waterways, buffer
      strips, and any other soil erosion prevention measure. Soil
      conservation doesn�t sequester new soil carbon. Rather, it prevents
      the loss of existing soil organic carbon. Soil erosion, both water
      erosion and wind erosion, exposes organic materials in the soil to
      oxygen. This can result in oxidization of the organic material, and
      the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.



      * Improved grazing land management methods: Regular use of proper
      grazing methods and properly timed prescribed burning for certain
      grass species to increase forage production. The goal is to increase
      forage production, which will increase the amount of plant organic
      carbon production and result in an increase in soil organic carbon.



      Another practice grazing land managers can do is to improve grazing
      distribution if there are areas of the grazing land that are eroded by
      animals. This will help protect existing soil carbon levels by
      reducing soil erosion.



      More information about carbon sequestration, including the role
      agriculture can play and economic implications, is available on the K-
      State Web site http://www.soilcarboncenter.k-state.edu or the CASMGS
      site http://www.casmgs.colostate.edu



      Source: Mary Lou Peter, Kansas State University Extension
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