Friday, March 23, 2018

Water Insights Seminar March 27: Profiting More By Farming Less? A New Paradigm For Chesapeake Watershed Water Quality

The next Penn State Water Insights Seminar will be held March 27 featuring Dr. Tom Richard Director of Penn State’s Institutes for Energy and the Environment on the topic, “Profiting More By Farming Less? A New Paradigm For Chesapeake Bay Watershed Water Quality.”
While multiple factors contribute to water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the greatest challenges are the nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff and sediment eroded from cropland.
Soil conservationists know one the most cost effective ways to reduce these pollutants is by planting permanent perennial vegetation along streams and on highly erodible slopes.  However, adoption of these practices has been limited by the cost of subsidies and farmer perceptions that these practices will hurt their bottom line.
Recent research is showing how biomass crops, both perennials and cover crops, can provide needed water quality benefits and increase farm income as well as rural economic opportunity.
What is this new paradigm that promises to transform the relationship between environment and economy into synergy rather than conflict?  It is enabled by the new tools of precision agriculture, with data analytics allowing fine scale, sub-field comparisons of inputs with crop yield and price.
Analysis of profitability at this fine scale is demonstrating that significant parts of many fields are not profitable on a long term average.
On some parts of a field, crop yields may be reduced by drought, especially on steep, highly erodible soils where rainfall does not infiltrate.
On other parts of a field crops may be impacted by flooding. In either case, the fertilizer and other inputs used on those sub-field areas are wasted, and erosion carries them to rivers and other water bodies, including the Chesapeake Bay.
Once a farmer realizes parts of their fields are not making money with annual crops, planting those acres in perennials provides benefits both for farmer profits and environmental outcomes.  
Markets for perennial grass biomass is growing rapidly in Pennsylvania, with at least three companies annual demand now over 25,000 tons, some offering prices as high as $160/dry ton.  
With the right crops on the right acres, markets can incentivize farmers to improve the environment while increasing profitability – a win-win-win for Pennsylvania Agriculture, local rivers and recreation, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.
Dr. Tom Richard is a Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.  He coordinates a network of almost 500 faculty engaged in innovative interdisciplinary research and education on fossil and renewable energy, energy efficiency, water, climate, ecosystems and environmental health.
Dr. Richard currently directs the $10 million NEWBio Sustainable Bioenergy Consortium for the USDA, and serves as the deputy technical director for the DOE’s National Risk Assessment Partnership for geologic carbon sequestration.
Tom is the author or co-author of over 140 research and technical publications and is a Fellow and Past President of the Institute of Biological Engineering.  He has a B.S. from the University of California at Berkeley, and M.S. and PhD degrees from Cornell University.
The Seminar will be held in Room 102 Forest Resources Building at Penn State in State College from Noon to 1:00.  Click Here to attend the Seminar by webinar (sign in with your name and email).
Click Here for the full schedule of Water Insights Seminar series from Penn State’s Environment and Natural Resources Institute and recordings of past Seminars.
Other Archived Water Insights Seminars:
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