How International Collaboration contributes to reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Agriculture

In 2013, as part of Canada’s involvement in the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists were invited to participate in a multi-partner call on agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) research launched by the European Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI). This three-year initiative (2013-2016), brings together 11 of the 21 FACCE-JPI countries as well as Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Under this initiative, Canada, the United States (U.S.), the United Kingdom (U.K.), Germany, New Zealand and Australia are collaborating on a joint project called “Identifying ways to reduce agricultural GHG emissions: A multinational modeling approach to optimize C and N cycles between livestock and cropping systems” (IDENWAYS). This project seeks to minimize nutrient losses which lead to environmental degradation, e.g. water pollution and GHG emissions with impacts on local, regional and global scales, and should help identify management strategies to reduce agricultural GHG emissions and conserve nutrients in whole farm systems.

This joint project builds on 10 years of collaboration between Canada and the five partner countries who worked together on the Denitrification-Decomposition (DNDC) model created by Dr. Changsheng Li, from the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space (EOS), U.S. The DNDC model is a biogeochemical simulation model used for predicting soil carbon sequestration, nitrogen leaching, and tracing gas emissions in agro-ecosystems. This fruitful collaboration resulted in the development of a suite of models that can simulate country specific agricultural management practices, including Manure-DNDC, Landscape-DNDC, DNDC-CAN, U.K.-DNDC, and New-Zealand-DNDC.

In Canada, IDENWAYS is led by Ward Smith and model developer Brian Grant, who significantly improved the field crop-DNDC (DNDC-CAN), while Dr. Changsheng Li recently expanded the original model to include whole farm estimates of GHGs from livestock and manure systems. The latest version of the Manure-DNDC model, as well as each country’s specific version of DNDC will be used to analyse agricultural nutrient cycling in each partner country.

One farm from each of the six partner countries representing typical farming practices is being used for testing these models. For Canada’s case study farm in eastern Ontario, comprehensive farm measurements for field crops, livestock, barns, and manure facilities were provided by Dr. Andrew VanderZaag. Researchers from partner countries will work jointly to apply the model suite across the different farms.

Initial model assessments will identify strengths and weaknesses of the approach and help country partners design an operational approach for quantifying the impacts of alternate management practices for reducing GHG emissions.

Between 2014 and 2015, several workshops and visits to case study farms took place in Ottawa, the U.S., Germany and Scotland. Major outcomes included:

  • An improved Manure-DNDC model;
  • Initial model assessment conducted in two selected farms in the U.S. and Canada to estimate trace gas emissions and nutrient cycling from livestock facilities; and
  • Canada and U.S. case study farm descriptions and baseline model simulations of GHG emissions and nutrient cycling that were shared with country partners.

In 2016, Germany and the U.K. will provide their farm data and model assessment, and the two remaining case study farms will be identified in New-Zealand and Australia.

The model suite agreed on by the six partners will be shared with the international modelling network community and can be used by agricultural scientists, industry partners and policy analysts to evaluate environmental sustainability and risk assessment. Dr. Desjardins intends to demonstrate how the results of these studies can be used to reduce the emission intensities of certain agricultural products.

New York farm

New York farm.

The Twin Birch farm facility is a dairy farm with a total herd of 1900 cows located in Skaneateles, New York (NY). The farm is situated across two watersheds that are heavily used for recreation and water supply for Syracuse, NY and Auburn NY. A digester was installed due to concerns regarding odor and water quality and provides additional benefits including energy production and generation of separated solids utilized for bedding. The digester effluent is pumped to a screw-press solid-liquid separator and the liquid effluent is then pumped to a long-term earthen storage for later application to surrounding crop fields. Measurements include methane and ammonia losses from the barn along with detailed farm management data.

Ottawa farm

Ottawa farm.

The Fraser Farm is a high-tech dairy farm located 20 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. It is comprised of approximately 160 head milking cows and utilizes a state of the art robotic milking system. The livestock waste system includes a compost-screw press for separation of solids and liquids and a concrete storage tank for long-term storage of liquid effluent. A comprehensive measurement campaign using Boreal Lasers on Pan-Tilt Scanners overseen by AAFC’s Dr. Andrew VanderZaag is being conducted to quantify ammonia and methane measurements from each of the major farm facility components. In addition detailed farm facility data including livestock feed, waste production and farm management is also being collected.

Scotland farm

Scotland farm.

The Crichton Royal Farm is a Dairy Research Facility located in Crichton, Scotland. It is managed by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) located in Edinburgh and was founded to develop knowledge of sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. This facility is focused on comparing two contrasting feed/management systems utilizing two herd types differentiated by genetic merit (high and moderate). The first system represents a home-grown feed system which is impacted by local weather conditions and allows the cows to graze while the other is a by-products system which relies on purchased feeds and has the cows continuously housed. Barn measurements of methane and ammonia are augmented by a nearby field study on the farm instrumented with two eddy covariance towers, numerous chambers, and soil sampling stations for measuring/monitoring GHG emissions and nutrient cycling.

German farm

German farm.

A German case study farm was selected along with several surrounding sites investigating GHG emission and nutrient cycling. The farm represents a typical mid-sized dairy farm – 80 milking cows (presently being converted to organic) in the Bavarian state of southern Germany. The farm facility consists of a small housed feeding facility utilizing a floor scraper and nearby concrete livestock waste storage tank. Measurements conducted at the study farm include 1) a Boreal laser on pan-tilt scanner to estimate line-average methane and ammonia concentrations upwind and downwind of the farm sources, 2) 18 high tech field lysimeters with automated robotic measurements of GHG emissions and nutrient movement measured continuously, and 3) an experimental drone to estimate methane concentrations at varying heights above the farm.

The story has first been published here.

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