Whether we believe in global warming or not, whether we believe in a connection between mankind and global warming or not, there are reasons for concern that should persuade us to plan ahead. There will be changes in agriculture.
A recent study by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research concluded that food output may contribute up to 30 percent of all man-made greenhouse gases. In contrast, earlier United Nations studies pegged greenhouse gases attributed to food production at 14 percent. The gas outputs measured include crop production, fertilizer, transport, livestock and anything else associated with food.
CGIAR is an international scientific community consisting of more than 8,000 scientists in 15 research centers, with stated goals of reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition, and ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources.
One of the recommendations that would have a big effect on Idaho farming and ranching is a suggestion that the world shift from animal consumption to a vegetarian diet, not only because of the extensive use of inputs to produce livestock (land, pasture, grains, water), but also because of the undesirable gases produced by animals, primarily methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. All of these gases are in the crosshairs of governmental and environmental organizations. Because livestock is such a prominent producer of gas, we are at risk.
Thankfully, most clouds have a silver lining. For many years, the Agricultural Research Service of theUSDA has focused heavily on livestock gases. Several years ago, the service established a very controlled research project in a 10,000-cow dairy in Kimberly. Idaho is a state where the number of dairy cows has increased 88 percent in the past 10 years.
The subject dairy had 20 open-lot pens, two milking parlors, a hospital barn and maternity barn, a manure-solids separator, a 25-acre wastewater-storage pond and a 25-acre compost yard, all tightly controlled. The ARS teams calculated emissions of the four gases from three areas of the dairy several times per month, and at the same time calculated temperatures, humidity and other weather conditions that affect gas production and volatilization.
Although open-lot pens were the prime source of most gas emissions, storage ponds and compost yards were also major sources, and that is where improvement was quickly realized. The USDA was granted a patent in 2011 on a process that reduces nitrogen emissions and at the same time produces a rich source of nitrogen fertilizer. By use of gas-permeable membranes, nitrogen is captured and concentrated into liquid fertilizer before it has a chance to volatilize into the air. The gas-permeable membranes are similar to those used in biomedical devices and in a kind of product we all recognize: breathable but waterproof outdoor clothing. When first invented, gas-permeable membranes were extremely expensive, but today they are cheap enough to make recovery of ammonia from manure cost-effective.
Through repeated experiments, scientists have found that by altering the pH of the solutions, or with a change in atmospheric heat, they can reduce gaseous ammonia by 95 percent. Not only is the negative gas output reduced, but concentrated liquid fertilizer is produced.
Now these scientists are looking at other areas of the dairy for nitrogen capture and usage. Then we will move to all livestock.
Chas Bonner, vice president of business development, Scythe & Spade Co., Eagle. firstname.lastname@example.org