Biotechnology

Researchers to train farmers on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

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EL PASO, Texas (June 21, 2023) — By 2021, agricultural activities will account for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Now, researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso will help reduce these emissions by training farmers across the country in climate friendly farming practices.

EL PASO, Texas (June 21, 2023) — By 2021, agricultural activities will account for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Now, researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso will help reduce these emissions by training farmers across the country in climate friendly farming practices.

The project is supported by a new $2 million four-year grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The team behind the Carbon SMART (Soil Monitoring, Assessment, Research and Training) project includes soil scientists and geochemists from UTEP as well as geomorphologists, landscape ecologists, sociologists, and environmental anthropologists from Boise State University in Idaho. Researchers will train farmers and ranchers in Idaho and the surrounding region to monitor soil carbon levels and practice climate-smart conservation practices.

Increasing carbon in the soil is key to improving soil health, according to the team. Carbon is a key ingredient in photosynthesis, the process by which plants absorb and convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. After being absorbed from the atmosphere, carbon is stored in the surrounding soil as decaying plant matter.

“On a global scale, the soil collectively stores twice as much carbon as the atmosphere,” says David Huber, Ph.D, the project’s principal investigator and research assistant professor in UTEP’s Department of Earth, Environmental, and Resource Sciences.

But certain agricultural practices, such as tillage and lack of cover crops, can disrupt soil structure and cause carbon to be released into the atmosphere more rapidly than it is stored naturally, contributing to atmospheric warming, climate change, and decreased soil health. According to Huber, maintaining steady levels of carbon in the soil is in the best interest of farmers and is critical to preventing further warming.

As well as training producers to measure carbon levels in the soil, the Carbon SMART team will monitor the success of various conservation methods in maintaining stable carbon levels.

“This project will offer farmers and ranchers practical tools to self-assess the virtues of climate-smart conservation practices.” Hubers said. “It will also provide important insight into why producers adopt one set of conservation practices but not another.”

The team receiving the grant will primarily work with farmers and ranchers from underserved communities. They plan to begin outreach with nongovernmental organizations working with these producers, as well as partnering with state and federal agencies, state agricultural boards, and industrial farms.

“The Carbon SMART project will generate important knowledge about conservation practices that increase carbon storage in soil and can be used to help agricultural producers improve soil health throughout the western US,” said Robert Kirken, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Science. “I am very proud of the team awarded this grant that is helping prevent further climate change while helping historically underserved communities, and I look forward to what they achieve.”

Additional investigators on the project include UTEP Professor of Earth, Environment and Resources Sciences Lixin Jin, Ph.D. and Boise State University faculty member Jen Pierce, Ph.D.; Jodi Brandt, Ph.D.; Lisa Meierotto, Ph.D.; and Rebecca Som Castellanos, Ph.D.

About the University of Texas at El Paso

The University of Texas at El Paso is America’s leading Hispanic serving university. Located on the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries meet along the Rio Grande, 84% of our 24,000 students are Hispanic, and half are the first in their families to go to college. UTEP offers 169 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs at America’s only open-access, top-level research university.


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