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Developing climate-smart agricultural practices

A multi-institutional team of researchers led by the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has recently received a $5 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. The goal is to establish climate-smart agricultural practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase soybean production of small and underserved farmers in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri.

“The agricultural industry will soon be a leader in the fight against climate change,” said principal investigator Woo-Suk Chang, a professor of Biology at UTA. “Within the last 20 years, advances in plant breeding and biological soil amendments have allowed sustainable and regenerative agriculture to take on a more pivotal role in aiding the fight against the destruction of our planet.”

To reinforce efficient and sustainable soybean production, the experts will collaborate with farmers to combine new methods and innovative project pilots, including: no-till agriculture, cover crops, climate-smart soybean varieties, crop rotation, bio-inoculants, and biochar.

For instance, since tillage can lead to soil degradation and nutrient loss, converting to no-till planting will help farmers preserve below- and above-ground carbon storage. At the same time, using cover-crop mixtures that are adapted to the appropriate soil type and moisture profile, while developing climate-smart soybean varieties tolerant to droughts or flooding would help farms thrive under inclement conditions. 

Moreover, using crop rotation could achieve sustainable soil health, prevent soil erosion, and optimize biodiversity, while having drought-tolerant bio-inoculants as a part of a climate-smart commodity package could mitigate the negative impact on biological nitrogen fixation that drought events usually cause. Finally, due to its high surface area and porous structure, using biochar can enhance water-holding capacity and protect nutrients and organics from harsh abiotic conditions.

Until now, fourteen soybean producers from the three states have accepted to participate in the project. By providing them with climate-smart community packages, financial incentives, and the ability to accrue carbon credits, the scientists aim to accumulate a growing list of producers across all three and neighboring states.

“Expanding opportunities for small and underserved producers is a key goal of Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “Small and underserved producers, including those here in Texas, are facing the impacts of climate change head-on, with limited resources, and have the most to gain from leveraging the growing market demand for agricultural goods produced in a sustainable, climate-smart way. We look forward to working with The University of Texas at Arlington to expand markets for climate-smart commodities and ensure that small and underserved producers reap the benefits of these market opportunities.”  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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