Demonstrating Climate-Smart Mangement

Farming, ranching, and forest management have always been accompanied by challenges associated with weather and climate extremes. Extended droughts, late season freezes, and extreme rainfalls are facts of life across the Nation, with attendant consequences for agricultural production systems.

As the global climate continues to warm, the impacts of weather and climatic extremes on the production of food and fiber will increase. It is therefore imperative that USDA help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners develop strategies to maintain the productivity and profitability necessary to stay on the land. As part of this effort, it is highly useful to provide real-world, first-hand demonstrations of production strategies that are resilient to future climate conditions, including how these strategies can be implemented as well as illustrations of what works and what doesn’t based on producer experiences. Demonstration efforts lead to management strategies that directly improve productivity and profitability, and can be focused on either adaptation or mitigation.

From an adaptation perspective, for example, research has shown that by increasing organic matter in the soil by one percent, farmer and ranchers can triple their groundwater holding capacity.[1] This is primarily achieved through a series of land management practices such as no-till and strip-till farming, the incorporation of cover cropping and crop rotation in farming systems, better pasture management, and the planting of grass on highly erodible land – all practices encouraged by USDA through demonstration efforts to not only retain additional sub-soil moisture but to reduce soil erosion and nutrient run-off. By employing these farming and ranching practices, producers can both hold on to more moisture and reduce the impact of heavy rain events, thus helping harden their farms and ranches to extreme weather events such as droughts and flash floods.

From a mitigation perspective, effective land management practices can not only improve soil and landscape health but also reduce the climate change impact of agricultural operations. Studies have shown that by increasing organic matter, agriculture producers can greatly increase the amount of additional nutrients per acre for growing plants[2] while reducing the amount of fuel required per acre to produce a crop.[3] This helps reduce input costs while reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. These same practices also sequester carbon dioxide through photosynthesis[4], futher reducing the climate impact of production agriculture.[5]

USDA’s Climate Hubs are key facilitators of these demonstrations at regional scales, through the establishment of demonstration farms and facilitation of accompanying field days, producer seminars, and training events.

1. Kansas State Extension Agronomy e-updates, Num. 357, July 6, 2012.

2. Winsor, Susan. "Profit from Soil Organic Matter." Corn and Soybean Digest. Penton Agriculture Market, 19     December 2012. Web. 9 September 2014. http://cornandsoybeandigest.com/print/fertilizer/profit-soil-organic-matter

3. Oklahoma State Extension Service, “No-till Cropping systems in Oklahoma, E-996, Oct. 8, 2012.

4. Oklahoma State Extension Service, “Summary of the soil carbon sequestration rate assessment program”, CR-2265.

5. William J. Parton, Myron P. Gutmann, Emily R. Merchant, Melannie D. Hartman, Paul R. Adler, Frederick M. McNeal, Susan M. Lutz. Measuring and mitigating agricultural greenhouse gas production in the US Great Plains, 1870–2000. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201416499 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.141649912