Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How farmers can improve the environment

As one could probably tell from my Cinco De Mayo entry, I was in an "I can't be all DOOM all the time mood" this morning.  Three days of bad news was starting to get to me.  So, I think it's time for some good news about how farmers can do things to improve the environment while growing crops.

First, a Michigan State University study shows changes in farming practices could help environmental stability.
By changing row-crop management practices in economically and environmentally stable ways, U.S. farms could contribute to improved water quality, biological diversity, and soil fertility while helping to stabilize the climate, according to an article in the May issue of BioScience.

The article, based on research conducted over 25 years at Michigan State University and the university’s Kellogg Biological Station in southwest Michigan, further reports that Midwest farmers, especially those with large farms, appear willing to change their farming practices to provide these ecosystem services in exchange for payments. And a previously published survey showed that citizens are willing to make such payments for environmental services such as cleaner lakes.

The article is by G. Philip Robertson and six coauthors associated with the MSU Kellogg Biological Station, which is part of the Long Term Ecological Research Network. The research analyzed by Robertson and colleagues investigated the yields and the environmental benefits achievable by growing corn, soybean, and winter wheat under regimes that use one third of the usual amount of fertilizer—or none at all—with “cover crops” fertilizing the fields in winter.
It's not just row crops.  Penn State research reveals true value of cover crops to farmers, environment.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops -- widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial -- is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"As society places increasing demands on agricultural land beyond food production to include ecosystem services, we needed a new way to evaluate 'success' in agriculture," said Jason Kaye, professor of biogeochemistry. "This research presents a framework for considering a suite of ecosystem services that could be derived from agricultural land, and how cover crops affect that suite of services.

"Cover cropping is one of the most rapidly growing soil and water conservation strategies in the Chesapeake Bay region and one we are really counting on for future improvements in water quality in the bay. Our analysis shows how the effort to improve water quality with cover crops will affect other ecosystem services that we expect from agricultural land."
Here's to farmers nourishing the planet while raising crops to nourish us.

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