Dr. Alyssa Whitcraft [NASA Harvest Deputy Director] and Dr. Ritvik Sahajpal [NASA Harvest Crop Condition Co-Lead] have been invited to serve as guest editors for MDPI Land’s Special Issue on Cropland Carbon, focused on regenerative agriculture techniques for enhancing soil and environmental health. It is a well-established fact that keeping up with global food demand relies on increasing agricultural production and agricultural land use, especially as global population continues to grow. What is less understood is precisely how agricultural practices - ranging from traditional management to regenerative and sustainable agriculture practices - and the interplay between them impact crop growth and yield production.
Traditional agricultural land management practices like land-clearance for farming and deforestation contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, agricultural lands have the potential to offset large amounts of CO2 through the use of regenerative agriculture (RA) techniques. RA attempts to resolve the problems associated with agriculture, enhancing soil and environmental health, while also maintaining the yield gains seen in traditional intensive agriculture. “Carefully implemented regenerative agriculture techniques like no-till or cover crops hold immense promise,” explains Dr. Ritvik Sahajpal. “They are climate stabilization wedges that can help sequester carbon while providing farmers with an uninterrupted revenue stream.”
For Dr. Alyssa Whitcraft, the struggle to implement regenerative agriculture strikes close to home. “My family have been winemakers since the late 1970s, and that is really from where my love of food and agriculture grew. We are seeing the impacts of climate change on wine grape production already. A little drought is good for grapes; but the 2008-2014 extreme drought in southern California where we operate decimated yields and even killed some old growth vines. The use of cover crops between rows of grapes in vineyards helped with soil moisture retention and the development of soil organic matter (including soil carbon), and provided a buffer against soil compaction - so I've seen how these practices can help growers weather the proverbial storm (or, in SoCal's case - the lack thereof!).”
Agriculture can be a major source of carbon in the form of fuel consumption, nitrogen-based fertilizer production, and waste management. Agriculture can also act as a sink, in other words: a repository that takes carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it within biological organisms. RA attempts to both decrease carbon production, while also increasing carbon sequestration. Cover cropping, for instance, introduces new organic material that will pull carbon out of the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it within the vegetation. Cover cropping also helps increase the health of the soil, decreasing soil erosion and increasing water retention, which reduces the need for fertilizers.
Similarly, conservation tillage (strategies focused on limiting field tillage and planting crops in the residue of previous crops) helps to decrease soil erosion and maintain soil’s ability to hold large amounts of sequestered atmospheric carbon. Other methods including irrigation and water management, crop rotation, and land use all serve similar purposes: the limitation of carbon production and increase of carbon sequestration. This Special Issue will serve as a hub, attracting the latest research on RA techniques and expanding our understanding of how RA techniques impact crop yields and environmental health.
For the Cropland Carbon special issue, we invite papers that focus on:
Whitcraft and Sahajpal hope to draw submissions looking at the nuance of agricultural practices, soil types, and landscapes. “We want to advance the science and bring together community knowledge - and we need to do so quickly, because time is of the essence!”
Interested authors should review the Instructions for Authors page before submission.
Manuscripts are now being accepted and will remain open for submission until March 31, 2021.