GAINESVILLE — It may seem to be an unexpected place to find climate change “heroes” - agricultural researchers in southern land-grant universities. Yet, there are a growing number of scientists working to advance productivity and respond to climate change by discovering opportunities to reduce agriculture’s impact on global climate. Much of this work focuses on climate resilient production practices, cover crop research, and sustainable agriculture.
Using less water, protecting nutrients in the soil and using fewer inputs in a climate changing environment are the foundations of climate resilient agriculture. The use of cover crops is the practice of introducing any non-cash crop grown to protect and enrich the soil. Traditionally, cover crops are used to add nutrients to the soil depleted from production of other crops. But now researchers are looking to climate resilient agriculture and cover crops and how they impact greenhouse gas emissions and water use, especially in drought areas.
Across the southern region of the United States, researchers at public land-grant universities are discovering new ways to use these methods to combat climate change. The impact: less water use, less pesticide uses and more environmentally friendly production agriculture methods.
Some of these advances include:
University of Georgia: Relationships Between Soil Water Holding Capacity and Long-Term Cover Crop Treatments in Coastal Plain Production Systems Using Soil Moisture Sensors
UGA researchers are working to determine the effect of cover crop mixes on soil water hold capacity (SWHC). This study included a long-term cover crop study (implemented in 2018) the treatments include a no cover control treatment, cereal rye monoculture, cereal rye and crimson clover mixture, and 5-species cover crop mixture, which are all replicated four times.
Fort Valley State University, Georgia: Advancing crop genomic research and sensor technology
Frequent extreme climate episodes in many parts of the world and increasing global temperatures could negatively impact the production of major staple crops. As a result, a team of 65 experts from 30 research institutions, including Fort Valley State University, made a scientific breakthrough that could help enhance crop production despite changes in global temperatures. The international team of scientists decoded and sequenced the pearl millet genome, revealing critical heat coping strategies in this grain crop. They used the latest innovations in DNA sequencing and analysis to identify molecular markers and candidate genes related to drought and heat tolerance, as well as other important traits, such as a better nutrition profile and pest resistance.
In addition, research at FVSU is bringing technology and science-based solutions to peanut growers’ fields to increase the quality and yield of Georgia’s official state crop. With the emergence of sensors and electronic technologies, it is possible to use sensor technology in peanut production and the management process to enhance water use efficiency, average yield and product quality.
Louisiana State University AgCenter: Sustainable agriculture finds new tool in an old toolkit
Louisiana State University researchers are finding that sometimes everything old is new again. Planting cover crops, a centuries-old practice meant to protect and enhance the soil in farmers’ field that almost disappeared in large-scale agriculture is now being revived with positive results. In an age where growing crops is challenged by climate change, soil erosion, and water use, cover crops provide a tool that promotes sustainable agriculture.
Oklahoma State University: Oklahoma water center aims to conserve water through cover crops
The Oklahoma Water Resources Center at Oklahoma State University is teaming up with Texas A&M University for a $1.7 million project to study the benefits of regenerative agriculture in Oklahoma and Texas. Project partners are conducting field research evaluating how the use of cover crops, no till farming and grazing of cover crops effect soil health, soil carbon, nutrient cycling, greenhouse gases emissions, and water quality and quantity. The field research findings will then be used to develop river basin scale models to evaluate the effects of regenerative agricultural practices at a regional scale. Output from these models will be integrated with economic models to show the potential economic impacts on individual producers and surrounding communities.
Oklahoma is working to improve agricultural production while reducing environmental impacts
Oklahoma State University has received more than $2.6 million to research ways to improve agricultural production while reducing environmental impact. OSU researchers will work closely with Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Texas A&M University and other universities in the region on a five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. OSU will receive more than $2.6 million of the $10 million competitive grant. The goal is to find ways to not only sustain production but also improve the land and other resources at the same time.”
Clemson University: Clemson researchers continue study to develop heat-tolerant soybeans
Soybean is one of the top cash crops grown in South Carolina, but high temperatures during the growing season limit yields and cut into profits. Two Clemson University researchers believe a better understanding of traits associated with heat tolerance in soybean can help in developing heat-tolerant varieties that can lead to more sustainable crop production. They have received a $649,895 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to study soybean’s efficiency for heat tolerance. This grant continues research in which the researchers are examining traits that lead to heat tolerance in soybean. The long-term goal for this project is to improve soybean’s climate resilience so that it can produce stable yields under heat stress conditions.
On solid ground: Sustainability through soil research
Each Spring, Clemson’s 240-acre Musser Fruit Research Center erupts in brilliant pink blooms, but more than peaches will grow on the sprawling stretch of land and fruit trees along the shores of Lake Hartwell. Scientists are growing environmental and agricultural solutions there as well, studying how compost — culled from dining hallfood waste and discarded peaches — might improve the soil for future peach crops. Compost adds organic matter that synthetic fertilizers do noy and improves the organic matter in soil. It improves fertility, reduces input costs, improve grower profits and support the environment. Advances in soil health research will guide future management decisions that will lead to more resilient agriculture, a more stable food security and reduced environmental impacts.
University of Florida: Research examines how cover crops help soil health on Florida farms
Florida’s sandy soils can be a challenge for agricultural producers. Ensuring the soil retains the right amount of moisture and nutrients is a constant concern. Newly published UF/IFAS research examines how cover crops help soil health on farms in different regions of Florida. The results show, in general, cultivating cover crops over fallow periods could be a viable option for Florida’s growers. Cover crops showed beneficial effects on soil health over all the farms statistically. More study is needed to determine if long-term improvements in soil fertility can be achieved under Florida conditions.
These institutions are part of a system of 15 agricultural research centers at land-grant universities in the southern U.S. where scientists collaborate to conduct research and outreach focused on conserving the region’s natural resources and sustainably feeding a growing global population.