NC510: Addressing Hypoxia Issue Associated with the Upper Mississippi River Basin
Statement of Issues and JustificationMajor agricultural regions of the US are now dominated by landscapes that are not providing ecological services that are essential to environmental quality; these services include maintenance of biodiversity and water quality, regulation of the flow of water and of invasive organisms. These problems are evident in the Mississippi River Basin and Great Lakes Region in the Midwest, where annual commodity crops occupy most of the landscape. The result is unintended environmental impact such as discharge of sediment, nitrogen and other nutrients into surface and ground waters and reduced biodiversity.
The underlying and fundamental hypothesis of this proposed multi-state research project is that a multifunctional agroecosystem would provide sufficient amounts of desired ecological services such as soil conservation, clean water and biodiversity while producing desired market-based goods such as food, feed, fiber and biomass. Research results from the Midwest suggest that a diversified grassland (prairie) agroecosystem on degraded agricultural land can increase both carbon sequestration and the net energy gain in bio- fuel production. Restored and constructed wetlands on flood-prone farmland and along riparian zones could provide biomass, increase wildlife abundance, and improve water quality via biogeochemical processes.
A recent assessment of the potential economic, social, and environmental performance of multifunctional agroecosystems done by a simulation study for two representative agricultural watersheds in the upper Midwest United States suggests that major environmental services could be attained by targeted plant diversification using perennial crops without substantially increasing public costs. Economic and social benefits expected with targeted placement of perennial plant systems include farm profitability, avoided costs associated with specific environmental damages, and greater willingness of landowners to cooperate on targeted diversification projects.
Adoption and further development of these new agroecosystems are being inhibited by a complex set of barriers in the form of limits to knowledge, markets, infrastructure, capital access and public policy. These barriers are interrelated and mutually-reinforcing. Therefore, it is critical to identify and explore more effective and systemic approaches to removing or reducing the barriers to adoption of agroecosystems on private lands that yield environmental functionality and associated value and marketed food, feed, fiber, and biomass.
Project Essence and Goal: We propose a project that will investigate optimal planning and management models to capitalize on the enormous potential of multifunctional agroecosystems designed to produce market and non-market good and services. The goal of this project is to research better ways of organizing and transferring science-based knowledge so as to reduce or eliminate the barriers to adoption of agroecosystems that enhance profitability of annual and perennial crops and sustains the environment and communities tied to the land and crops.
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