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UW field day tour focuses on greenhouse gases and crop management

There will be a special session on research related to greenhouse gases and crop management at the Agronomy/Soils Field Day at 8 a.m. Aug. 27 at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station. Tours at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. will show how greenhouse gases are collected across different Wisconsin cropping systems and describe recent research discoveries and the applications of this research. University of Wisconsin-Extension and UW-Madison invite farmers, agronomists, crop consultants, agri-business, governmental agencies and the general public to attend.

Agriculture contributes almost 10 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions—mostly in the form of nitrous oxide and methane. Agricultural soil management contributes 75 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions in the U.S., while livestock and manure account for 34 percent of the nation’s methane emissions. Therefore, researchers have focused on identifying agricultural management practices that can reduce nitrous oxide and methane losses. Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is often considered an indicator of sustainability.

Several industry-led efforts are underway to reduce these emissions. For example, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy signed an agreement with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy 25 percent by the year 2020. Additional efforts, such as the 25×25 Coalition, are spearheading efforts to increase renewable energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“Our current research at UW is focused on understanding what the baseline losses are, how much they vary from year to year and how different cropping systems and management practices affect those losses,” said Matt Ruark, a UW-Extension specialist and assistant professor of soil fertility and nutrient management at UW-Madison. “We are also interested in assessing the emissions in relation to production. Depending on the agricultural system being evaluated, the emissions may be calculated per gallon of milk, per bushel of grain or per energy produced.”

UW-Madison and UW-Extension are part of three major efforts related to agricultural climate change mitigation and adaption. Two of them—Sustainablecorn.org and Sustainabledairy.org (website under construction)—are multi-state projects funded by the USDA. The third, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sustainabledairy.org, which is led by the UW in partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, includes quantification of greenhouse gas emissions to improve models, assessment tools and user tools. These and other tools are currently being beta-tested and may be available and promoted soon for use to quantify effects of management across the supply chain.

“The quality of these tools and our understanding of how agriculture can help mitigate effects of climate change are grounded in the quality of the research conducted at the Arlington Ag Research Station,” Ruark said. “Another important aspect to this research is to assess all the co-benefits or trade-offs that come with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We do not want to sacrifice profitability, water quality or soil quality in the process.”

The Arlington Research Station, N695 Hopkins Road, is just off Hwy. 51 about five miles south of Arlington and 15 miles north of Madison. A map is available at http://go.wisc.edu/arlington-map.

For more information: Matt Ruark, mdruark@wisc.edu, 608-263-2889