Farming for improved ecosystem services seen as economically feasible

April 09, 2014

By changing row-crop management practices in economically and environmentally stable ways, US farms could contribute to improved water quality, biological diversity, pest suppression, 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 the 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 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. The research also examined "no-till" techniques. The regime that used fewer chemicals resulted in more than 50 percent reductions in the amount of nitrogen that escaped into groundwater and rivers, with crop yields close to those of standard management. Nitrogen pollution is a major problem in inland waterways and coastal regions, where it contributes to the formation of "dead zones."

The no-till and reduced chemical regimes also mitigated greenhouse warming by taking up greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, in contrast to standard management, which produces significant greenhouse warming by emitting nitrous oxide. The zero-chemical regime mitigated greenhouse warming enough to compensate for the emissions produced under standard management. All three regimes also led to more fertile soil compared with conventional management.

The environmentally improved farming practices that Robertson and his colleagues studied are more complex than conventional ones. But the authors found that although sustained profitability is generally farmers' overriding concern, substantial proportions would accept payments to adopt such practices, especially those with large farms. And a 2009 survey in Michigan found that members of the public indicated they were willing to pay higher taxes so that land managers could participate in stewardship programs to benefit lakes; a smaller number were willing to pay for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Robertson and his colleagues argue that in coming decades, human population and income growth will drive agriculture to ever-higher intensities. The danger is that it will become more vulnerable to climate extremes and pest outbreaks. "Now is the time to guide this intensification in a way that enhances the delivery of ecosystems services that are not currently marketed," they conclude.
-end-
BioScience, published monthly by Oxford Journals, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is a meta-level organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents nearly 160 member societies and organizations. Follow BioScience on Twitter @BioScienceAIBS.

Oxford Journals is a division of Oxford University Press. Oxford Journals publishes well over 300 academic and research journals covering a broad range of subject areas, two-thirds of which are published in collaboration with learned societies and other international organizations. The division been publishing journals for more than a century, and as part of the world's oldest and largest university press, has more than 500 years of publishing expertise behind it. Follow Oxford Journals on Twitter @OxfordJournals

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Related Nitrogen Articles from Brightsurf:

Chemistry: How nitrogen is transferred by a catalyst
Catalysts with a metal-nitrogen bond can transfer nitrogen to organic molecules.

Illinois research links soil nitrogen levels to corn yield and nitrogen losses
What exactly is the relationship between soil nitrogen, corn yield, and nitrogen loss?

Reducing nitrogen with boron and beer
The industrial conversion of nitrogen to ammonium provides fertiliser for agriculture.

New nitrogen products are in the air
A nifty move with nitrogen has brought the world one step closer to creating a range of useful products -- from dyes to pharmaceuticals -- out of thin air.

'Black nitrogen'
In the periodic table of elements there is one golden rule for carbon, oxygen, and other light elements.

A deep dive into better understanding nitrogen impacts
This special issue presents a selection of 13 papers that advance our understanding of cascading consequences of reactive nitrogen species along their emission, transport, deposition, and the impacts in the atmosphere.

How does an increase in nitrogen application affect grasslands?
The 'PaNDiv' experiment, established by researchers of the University of Bern on a 3000 m2 field site, is the largest biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment in Switzerland and aims to better understand how increases in nitrogen affect grasslands.

Reducing reliance on nitrogen fertilizers with biological nitrogen fixation
Crop yields have increased substantially over the past decades, occurring alongside the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Flushing nitrogen from seawater-based toilets
With about half the world's population living close to the coast, using seawater to flush toilets could be possible with a salt-tolerant bacterium.

We must wake up to devastating impact of nitrogen, say scientists
More than 150 top international scientists are calling on the world to take urgent action on nitrogen pollution, to tackle the widespread harm it is causing to humans, wildlife and the planet.

Read More: Nitrogen News and Nitrogen Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.