Climate explained: regenerative farming can help grow food with less impact



Returning nutrients, including animal feces, to the land is important to maintain the soil’s capacity to sequester carbon.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Troy Baisden, University of Waikato


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

I would like to know to what extent regenerative agriculture practices could play a role in reducing carbon emissions and producing food, including meat, in the future. From what I have read it seems to offer much, but I am curious about how much difference it would make if all of our farmers moved to this kind of land management practice. Or even most of them. – a question from Virginia

To identify and quantify the potential of regenerative agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we first have to define what it means. If regenerative practices maintain or improve production, and reduce wasteful losses on the farm, then the answer tends to be yes. But to what degree is it better, and can we verify this yet?

Let’s first define how regenerative farming differs from other ways of farming. For example, North Americans listening to environmentally conscious media would be likely to define most of New Zealand pastoral agriculture systems as regenerative, when compared to the tilled fields of crops they see across most of their continent.

If milk and meat-producing animals are not farmed on pasture, farmers have to grow grains to feed them and transport the fodder to the animals, often over long distances. It’s hard to miss that the transport is inefficient, but easier to miss that nutrients excreted by the animals as manure or urine can’t go back to the land that fed them.

Healthy soils

Returning nutrients to the land really matters because these build up soil, and grow more plants. We can’t sequester carbon in soil without returning nutrients to the soil.

New Zealand’s style of pastoral agricultural does this well, and we’re still improving as we focus on reducing nutrient losses to water.




Read more:
New Zealand launches plan to revive the health of lakes and rivers


Our pastoral soils tend to have as much carbon as they once did under forest, but concerns have been raised about carbon losses in some regions. Yet, we do still have two big problems.

First, the animals that efficiently digest tough plants – including cows, sheep, and goats – all belch the greenhouse gas methane. This is a direct result of their special stomachs, and chewing their cud. Therefore, farms will continue to have high greenhouse gas emissions per unit of meat and milk they produce. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report emphasised this, noting that changing diets can reduce emissions.

The second problem is worst in dairying. When a cow lifts its tail to urinate, litres of urine saturate a small area. The nitrogen content in this patch exceeds what plants and soil can retain, and the excess is lost to water as nitrate and to the air, partly as the powerful, long-lived greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Defining regenerative

Regenerative agriculture lacks a clear definition, but there is an opportunity for innovation around its core concept, which is a more circular economy. This means taking steps to reduce or recover losses, including those of nutrients and greenhouse gases.




Read more:
Regenerative agriculture can make farmers stewards of the land again


Organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of antibiotics and synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, could potentially include regenerative agriculture. Organics once had the same innovative status, but now has a clear business model and supply chain linked to a price premium achieved through certification.

The price premium and regulation linked to certification can limit the redesign of the organic agricultural systems to incremental improvements, limiting the inclusion of regenerative concepts. It also means that emission studies of organic agriculture may not reveal the potential benefits of regenerative agriculture.

Instead, the potential for a redesign of New Zealand’s style of pastoral dairy farming around regenerative principles provides a useful example of how progress might work. Pastures could shift from ryegrass and clover to a more diverse, more deeply rooted mix of alternate species such as chicory, plantains, lupins and other grasses. This system change would have three main benefits.

Win-win-win

The first big win in farming is always enhanced production, and this is possible by better matching the ideal diet for cows. High performance ryegrass-clover pastures contain too little energy and too much protein. Diverse pastures fix this, allowing potential increases in production.

A second benefit will result when protein content of pasture doesn’t exceed what cows need to produce milk, reducing or diluting the nitrogen concentrated in the urine patches that are a main source of nitrous oxide emissions and impacts on water.

A third set of gains can result if the new, more diverse pastures are better at capturing and storing nutrients in soil, usually through deeper and more vigorous root growth. These three gains interrelate and create options for redesign of the farm system. This is best done by farmers, although models may help put the three pieces together into a win-win-win.

Whether you’re interested in local beef in Virginia, or the future of New Zealand’s dairy industry, the principles that define regenerative agriculture look promising for redesigning farming to reduce emissions. They may prove simpler than agriculture’s wider search for new ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including genetically engineering ryegrass.The Conversation

Troy Baisden, Professor and Chair in Lake and Freshwater Sciences, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate change will make rice less nutritious, putting millions of the world’s poor at risk



File 20180611 191940 siw4qq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Rice farmer in Longsheng, China.
kevincure, CC BY

Kristie Ebi, University of Washington

Rice is the primary food source for more than 3 billion people around the world. Many are unable to afford a diverse and nutritious diet that includes complete protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. They rely heavily on more affordable cereal crops, including rice, for most of their calories.

My research focuses on health risks associated with climate variability and change. In a recently published study, I worked with scientists from China, Japan, Australia and the United States to assess how the rising carbon dioxide concentrations that are fueling climate change could alter the nutritional value of rice. We conducted field studies in Asia for multiple genetically diverse rice lines, analyzing how rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere altered levels of protein, micronutrients and B vitamins.

Our data showed for the first time that rice grown at the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide scientists expect the world to reach by 2100 has lower levels of four key B vitamins. These findings also support research from other field studies showing rice grown under such conditions contains less protein, iron and zinc, which are important in fetal and early child development. These changes could have a disproportionate impact on maternal and child health in the poorest rice-dependent countries, including Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Many of poorest regions in Asia rely on rice as a staple food.
IRRI, CC BY-NC-SA

Carbon dioxide and plant growth

Plants obtain the carbon they need to grow primarily from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and draw other required nutrients from the soil. Human activities – mainly fossil fuel combustion and deforestation – raised atmospheric CO2 concentrations from about 280 parts per million during pre-industrial times to 410 parts per million today. If global emission rates continue on their current path, atmospheric CO2 concentrations could reach over 1,200 parts per million by 2100 (including methane and other greenhouse gas emissions).

Higher concentrations of CO2 are generally acknowledged to stimulate plant photosynthesis and growth. This effect could make the cereal crops that remain the world’s most important sources of food, such as rice, wheat and corn, more productive, although recent research suggests that predicting impacts on plant growth is complex.

Concentrations of minerals critical for human health, particularly iron and zinc, do not change in unison with CO2 concentrations. Current understanding of plant physiology suggests that major cereal crops – particularly rice and wheat – respond to higher CO2 concentrations by synthesizing more carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and less protein, and by reducing the quantity of minerals in their grains.

After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger appears to be on the rise, affecting 11 percent of the global population.
FAO, CC BY-ND

The importance of micronutrients

Worldwide, approximately 815 million people worldwide are food-insecure, meaning that they do not have reliable access to sufficient quantities of safe, nutritious and affordable food. Even more people – approximately 2 billion – have deficiencies of important micronutrients such as iron, iodine and zinc.

Insufficient dietary iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are too few red blood cells in the body to carry oxygen. This is the most common type of anemia. It can cause fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain, and can lead to serious complications, such as heart failure and developmental delays in children.

Zinc deficiencies are characterized by loss of appetite and diminished sense of smell, impaired wound healing, and weakened immune function. Zinc also supports growth and development, so sufficient dietary intake is important for pregnant women and growing children.

Higher carbon concentrations in plants reduce nitrogen amounts in plant tissue, which is critical for the formation of B vitamins. Different B vitamins are required for key functions in the body, such as regulating the nervous system, turning food into energy and fighting infections. Folate, a B vitamin, reduces the risk of birth defects when consumed by pregnant women.

Anemia affects one-third of women of reproductive age globally – or about 613 million women.
FAO, CC BY-ND

Significant nutrition losses

We carried out our field studies in China and Japan, where we grew different strains of rice outdoors. To simulate higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, we used Free-Air CO2 Enrichment, which blows CO2 over fields to maintain concentrations that are expected later in the century. Control fields experience similar conditions except for the higher CO2 concentrations.

On average, the rice that we grew in air with elevated CO2 concentrations contained 17 percent less vitamin B1 (thiamine) than rice grown under current CO2 concentrations; 17 percent less vitamin B2 (riboflavin); 13 percent less vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid); and 30 percent less vitamin B9 (folate). Our study is the first to identify that concentrations of B vitamins in rice are reduced with higher CO2.

We also found average reductions of 10 percent in protein, 8 percent in iron and 5 percent in zinc. We found no change in levels of vitamin B6 or calcium. The only increase we found was in vitamin E levels for most strains.

Rice within the octagon in this field is part of an experiment designed to grow rice under different atmospheric conditions. Rice grown under carbon dioxide concentrations of 568 to 590 parts per million is less nutritious, with lower amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Toshihiro HASEGAWA, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization of Japan, CC BY-ND

Worsening micronutrient deficiencies

At present, about 600 million people — mostly in Southeast Asia — get more than half of their daily calories and protein directly from rice. If nothing is done, the declines we found would likely worsen the overall burden of undernutrition. They also could affect early childhood development through impacts that include worsened effects from diarrheal disease and malaria.

The potential health risks associated with CO2-induced nutritional deficits are directly correlated to the lowest overall gross domestic product per capita. This suggests that such changes would have serious potential consequences for countries already struggling with poverty and undernutrition. Few people would associate fossil fuel combustion and deforestation with the nutritional content of rice, but our research clearly shows one way in which emitting fossil fuels could worsen world hunger challenges.

How could climate change affect other key plants?

Unfortunately, today there is no entity at the federal, state or business level that provides long-term funding to evaluate how rising CO2 levels could affect plant chemistry and nutritional quality. But CO2-induced changes have significant implications, ranging from medicinal plants to nutrition, food safety and food allergies. Given the potential impacts, which may already be occurring, there is a clear and urgent need to invest in this research.

The ConversationIt is also critical to identify options for avoiding or lessening these risks, from traditional plant breeding to genetic modification to supplements. Rising CO2 concentrations are driving climate change. What role these emissions will play in altering all aspects of plant biology, including the nutritional quality of the crops that we use for food, feed, fiber and fuel, remains to be determined.

Kristie Ebi, Professor of Global Health and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate Change: Trees Using Less Water


The links below are to articles reporting on how trees are using less water as a response to climate change.

For more visit:
http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0711-forests-water-co2.html
http://inhabitat.com/trees-are-adapting-to-climate-change-by-using-water-more-efficiently/

Article: Newly Discovered Species that are Less than Pleasant


The link below is to an article that looks at five newly discovered species that you really don’t want to meet too closely.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/139291

Climate Change: Less Artic Ice Equals More Snow?


The link below is to an article reporting on suggestions that climate change may be leading to more snow in winter for the northern hemisphere.

For more visit:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120227-arctic-sea-ice-global-warming-winter-weather-science-environment/