MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The department of agronomy at Kansas State University has received a one-year grant of $1 million from the Robertson Foundation, New York, for outreach and research efforts into the role of agricultural soils in reducing global warming.

The grant will be used to fund the ongoing efforts of the Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases, a consortium of the nation's top researchers and educators in the areas of soil carbon and greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture, said Chuck Rice, K-State professor of agronomy and national director of the consortium. The grant will enable the group's work to continue for one year while other sources of funding are explored to support the consortium beyond that time.

"This grant comes at an especially critical time for the environment and agriculture," Rice said. "The rapid buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in recent years has created increasing concern about the implications on our climate and the environment.

Agriculture can help mitigate these problems in a cost-effective and environmentally sound way, but we need to start measuring and crediting agricultural practices that reduce global warming gases."

Research over the past several years has proven that agriculture can become a key player in helping to mitigate global warming and climate change, Rice said.

"With proper management, such as no-till, organic carbon levels in soils can be increased. Increasing soil carbon levels -- a process called 'soil carbon sequestration' -- helps reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Soil carbon sequestration is one of the most cost-effective ways available now of reducing greenhouse gases," he said.

"The timing of this grant is critical," said Sara Hessenflow Harper of Environmental Defense, a nonprofit environmental group. "There are several climate policies being written for the upcoming Congress - and several states are beginning to implement their own climate policies.

"As it stands now, agriculture is likely to be left out of these key policy discussions. Research like that being conducted at K-State and the Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases network will be vital to ensure that agriculture is credited for what it can do to reduce global warming."

Agriculture also can help mitigate climate change through practices that use less fossil fuel and by producing bioenergy crops to replace fossil fuels. The agricultural practices used to mitigate climate change have the added benefit of also improving soil and water quality, Rice said.

"The effects of these practices are beneficial in many ways and will have long-term impacts," he said. "Our goal is to encourage the implementation of these practices within agriculture so that society can realize the benefits within the coming years and beyond."

The Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases received funding in 2003 from the USDA through the efforts of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. It consists of a consortium of scientists and educators at 10 institutions throughout the nation.

The participating institutions are K-State, Colorado State University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Montana State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Purdue University, Texas A&M University and the University of Nebraska.

Carbon credit trading based on consortium research

Research by consortium scientists has been used as a basis for the first national pilot project for carbon credit trading in the U.S. The project, established by the Chicago Climate Exchange, offers producers the opportunity to sell soil carbon credits from no-till fields and new plantings of field grasses to participating buyers. This kind of market mechanism by the exchange group and others will likely be an important part of any future cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas reductions in the U.S., Rice said.

Cap-and-trade is a market-based system in which a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions is established by the government. Industries that emit greenhouse gases can choose to achieve part of their mandated emission reductions by trading payments for excess "carbon emission credits" from entities that are reducing carbon more than required.

The original funding for the Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases expired in November. The new grant funding from the Robertson Foundation will allow the consortium to continue its work and focus more on education and outreach to the agricultural community, industry and policymakers, Rice said.

"The overall goal of the Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases is to provide the tools and information needed to successfully implement soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction programs in agriculture, and this funding will go a long way toward helping us achieve this goal," he said.

SOURCE: Kansas State University news release via PR Newswire.