Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
The Rodale Institute®
OCTOBER 10, 2003
The Farming Systems Trial® is located at The Institute’s 333-acre Experimental Farm near Kutztown, PA. Established in 1981, it has served as a catalyst for the emerging organic agriculture industry, and as an overall unique source of scientific information about crop productivity, economics, soil quality and environmental impacts. The trial has provided specific information on the topics of soil organic matter dynamics, carbon management, nitrogen utilization, water quality and overall soil health. These findings suggest that increased adoption of organic practices should have positive impacts on both global carbon and nitrogen use efficiency and less risk of nitrate leaching into groundwater. Organic technologies may facilitate a decline in the rate of increase of carbon dioxide as an atmospheric greenhouse gas.
In the November 1998 issue of Nature magazine, Institute researchers reporting on 15 year results of the Farming Systems Trial® concluded, greater retention of both carbon and nitrogen (in the organic systems) suggests that use of low carbon-to-nitrogen residues to maintain soil fertility combined with increased temporal diversities restores the biological linkage between carbon and nitrogen cycling in these systems and could lead to improved global carbon and nitrogen balances. Applications of these practices in the major maize/soybean growing region in the U.S. would increase soil carbon sequestration by 0.13- 0.30 X 1014 gyr-1. This is equal to 1-2% of the estimated annual carbon released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion in the United States. This data strongly supports the possibility that agriculture practices might play a role in reducing the impact of global warming.
New FST data just released is even more convincing. Since 1981, over 20,000 pounds of carbon per acre has been invested in each acre-foot in the organic production system using a modest manure input. Soil carbon increased 27.9% since 1981 in this system. Increases for the organic manure system represent an approximate gain of 1,019 pounds of carbon per acre foot per year. In addition, nitrogen gains of 87.6 lbs/acre foot/year were found in the organic manure based system.
Currently, the reservoir of carbon in soil organic matter is estimated at twice the present carbon in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Through FST, The Rodale Institute has shown the ability to effectively invest carbon into the soil to improve soil conditions by organic crop management. Organic agriculture that regenerates soil can be employed to mitigate climate change and is a proven existing technology presently available in successful and continuous use by The Rodale Institute and thousands of farmers throughout the world. The ability of soil to be a sink of excess carbon dioxide should not be underestimated and could be accelerated with extension of existing and application of emerging organic technologies.
This data and its global environmental implications is of critical importance to the strategic mission and greenhouse gas emphasis scope of work of the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Agriculture (Agriculture).
Because of our mutual interest in programs and initiatives-specifically carbon sequestration-to help prevent and mitigate global warming, The Rodale Institute and the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture enter into this Statement of Cooperation. Specifically, we will work together to access the necessary resources and share our vision, strengths and capabilities, to research and provide practical information -and prevention solutions-on how agriculture practices affect the global environment, especially in terms of the global cycling of carbon and nitrogen.
Research centerpiece of this partnership will be The Institute’s ongoing Farming Systems Trial® described above. The Trial is a dynamic experiment, responding to the changing climatic conditions of its site. As the experiment matures, it becomes more valuable. Many changes in the soil take years, even decades to fully develop in response to different management practices. Because of its long duration, FST offers a unique opportunity to study these subtle changes. Among these are the quantity and quality of soil organic matter, overall soil tilth, water quality and management, and changes in soil carbon and nitrogen levels. These soil characteristics play a critical role in the environmental impact of agriculture. For example, the ability of the soil to retain soluble nutrients such as nitrogen, is critical to reducing leaching of nitrates into surface and underground water supplies.
The next steps should be collaboration in applied research on means by which we can move knowledge gained from FST into the marketplace. In particular, we need to assess and qualify advanced soil management and farming technologies that can accelerate soil carbon and nutrient sequestration and that would enable farmers and other landowners to quantify results. This could open the way for participation in future carbon or nutrient trading markets. Promising areas of research include advanced composting technology, the use of concentrated microbial agents (e.g. brewed compost teas), the impact of C4 plants e.g. Switchgrass, Miscanthus, etc., application of advanced humic substances and the collateral benefits of having proper C:N ratios in soil that can facilitate the capture of nitrates and phosphates, retention of water and resistance to erosion.
Rather than only providing answers, FST has, in some cases, already raised fruitful questions related to the regeneration of the soil, and its impact on human and environmental health. This Statement of Cooperation will allow DEP, Agriculture and The Rodale Institute to leverage FST’s 23 years of data to quantify further the role of using agriculture in living soils to sequester carbon. FST is also the living laboratory to investigate how to accelerate the build up of humates in soils. There is also a need for more rapidly measuring and benchmarking credits for carbon, nutrients and water. In addition, more work needs to be done to explore soils as sinks to capture carbon and nutrients, keeping them bio-available for plants.
More questions will emerge-and need to be answered. Through this Statement, we will have the opportunity to tackle them together. Together, we will share these findings and complement the research, programs, and policy initiatives of the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture. The end goal is to positively impact the personal and environmental health of all stakeholders.
This Statement of Cooperation is not intended to and does not create any contractual rights or obligations with respect to the signatory agencies or any other parties.
Signed, October 10, 2003
Anthony Rodale, Chairman, The Rodale Institute®
Kathleen A. McGinty, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Dennis C. Wolff, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.