PUYALLUP, Wash. — Helping farmers ease global climate change by reducing farm-produced greenhouse gas emissions is the goal of a $3.75 million research grant from the Paul G. Allen Charitable Foundation to Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The grant to CSANR is the largest of more than 130 grants totaling $12.45 million announced Wednesday by six charitable foundations established by the Microsoft co-founder. It is also the largest grant ever received by WSU from the Allen Charitable Foundation, and the first for agricultural research.
“This project could not only help farmers substantially reduce emissions from agriculture, but also takes things one step further,” said Chris Feise, CSANR director. “It means agriculture in Washington state could soon offset pollution caused by urbanization and industries — and get paid for doing so.”
The Allen Foundation’s support will fund a five-year project in which WSU and USDA researchers will assess three farming systems. Dairy, irrigated crop, and dryland grain farming systems will be evaluated to better understand how each contributes to global warming.
The interdisciplinary team will evaluate alternative farming approaches for their ability to reduce emissions and increase carbon storage, while also monitoring the economic and environmental impacts.
“In the last 30 years, scientists have charted rapid increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon-based greenhouse gases, and these are seen as likely contributors to global warming,” said David Granatstein, a WSU sustainable agriculture specialist who led the development of the project.
“Although farms represent a relatively small source of greenhouse gas emissions, by using new practices we’ll study in this project, agriculture has the potential to also act as a ‘sink’ for carbon-based emissions,” Granatstein said.
“We’ll gain a better understanding of how farms trap carbon dioxide in the form of soil carbon, thus potentially removing significant amounts of carbon from our atmosphere. Farmers may be able to get paid for this carbon storage, and our project will produce the data necessary to place a value on carbon credits.”
Project research with dairy farmers will focus on anaerobic digester systems, a promising alternative technology for managing manure.
“Digesters can capture methane for power generation while producing a useable fiber by-product,” said Shulin Chen, a WSU biological systems engineer. “Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that currently escapes to the atmosphere from open manure storage. We’re hopeful the digesters will allow us to capture this methane and put it to good use for on-farm energy generation.”
Project research with crop farmers will evaluate innovative farming practices in reducing greenhouse gases and storing carbon, such as irrigation design, precision agricultural technologies, direct (no-till) seeding and other environment-friendly strategies.
“We know that conservation farming can protect soil and water resources, and this project will further our understanding of the benefits of these techniques,” said Karl Kupers, a grain farmer in Harrington, Wash.
Research in measuring green house gas reduction and other environmental aspects of direct seed farming will greatly improve the economic sustainability for Northwest farmers. Marketing of these environmental benefits to the public creates additional and needed incentives for more growers to convert to direct seeding techniques.”
WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources was established by the state Legislature within the College of Agriculture and Home Economics to develop and implement education and research programs that support sustaining agriculture and natural resources.
The Paul G. Allen Charitable Foundation is dedicated to promoting the healthy development of vulnerable populations and to strengthening families and communities in the Pacific Northwest. The Foundation invests in effective organizations that address significant community needs, reflect best practices, leverage public and private resources, and contribute to lasting, positive social change.
Past grant recipients have included YMCA of Greater Seattle, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Seattle Public Library Foundation, and Outside In of Portland.
Founded in 1988, The Paul G. Allen Charitable Foundation is administered through Vulcan Inc., of Seattle.
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