American/Chinese research: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produce higher yields with a significant fall in environmental damage, change cropping systems

stanford news logoStanford University, in collaboration with China Agricultural University, has compared prevailing farming systems with alternative approaches.

The study was conducted for three years between 2009 and 2012, and spread over 153 locations in the intensively-farmed regions of Eastern and Southern China.

china ag uni logopeter vitousekLed by Professor Peter Vitousek, the study provides a route to reduce the contribution of agriculture to raising global temperatures. Its findings support Devinder Sharma’s repeated contention that the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which accounts for 25% of the total emissions, is to change the existing cropping systems to more ecologically sustainable farm practices.

It has conclusively established that an integrated soil-crop system (ISSM) involving crop selection, method of planting, time of sowing and nutrient management produces higher yields with a significant drop in environmental damages.

In the Stanford Report, September 8, 2014, Laura Seaman writes:

The research paper, published in Nature, compared current farming practices for staple crops corn, wheat and rice in Eastern and Southern China to three alternative approaches:

  • incremental improvements of the current method, aimed at boosting crop growth and improving environmental quality;
  • a yield-maximizing approach with no regard to either financial or environmental cost;
  • an integrated soil-crop system management” (ISSM) approach that used crop models to redesign the production system.

ds china studyThe yield-maximizing approach produced the highest yields of corn, wheat and rice. Yields from ISSM treatment were a close second, reaching 97 to 99% of the levels seen in yield-maximizing fields. Crops grown in the ISSM approach also required much less fertilizer, and used it much more efficiently, resulting in nearly no wasted nitrogen and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Sharma notes that the authors claim that even if the farmers were to achieve only 80% of the crop yields (on the same land area as in 2012) in the year 2030, China would be able to provide enough food for its human and animal populations, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% and reduce nitrogen losses by 50%.

ds andhra

“I see no reason why we can’t have an agriculture which does not devastate soil health, which does not contaminate the ground water, which does not lead to drying of water aquifers, which does not cause environmental pollution, which does not create super weeds and super bugs, which does not contaminate the food chain, which does not lead to global warming . . . It is certainly possible. All it needs is a political will.

“The Stanford study has shown that it is scientifically possible to do this. Instead of pushing risky GM crops, agricultural universities need to shift the research focus to integrated farming systems”.

Professor Vitousek believes that the technology can be applied in other areas of the world, where the yields can be improved without causing any economic hardship to farmers as well as any further destruction to the environment.



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