Understanding the climate effects of grazing agriculture

Read the full story from the Crop Science Society of America.

The Great Plains in the United States are well known for a rich history and expansive grasslands. This region is synonymous with ranchers herding cattle across the plains and a valuable resource for a growing population.

Today, that work continues. Huge tracts of prairie still support livestock, especially cattle. The land might not be as well-suited for growing grain or vegetables, but grasslands can contribute to feeding people by feeding animals first. Like all types of agriculture, grazing on prairies has an environmental impact. Scientists, farmers, ranchers, and consumers are increasingly trying to balance food production and protecting the environment, so it is important to understand how one affects the other.

“Increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere greatly affect climate around the world,” says Jean Steiner. Steiner directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s grazing laboratory in Oklahoma. “Agricultural land exchanges greenhouse gases with the atmosphere, and how we manage agriculture affects the amount of greenhouse gas exchange.”

Steiner and her team recently set out to understand the impacts of greenhouse emissions from grasslands. Only with this knowledge can scientists hope to steer agriculture toward climate-friendly solutions.

This study was published in Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment Journal, a publication of the American Society of Agronomy, and Crop Science Society of America.

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