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Protecting the Environment via Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry

Nifa Author
Lori Tyler Gula, Senior Public Affairs Specialist

A healthy environment is a foundation for a stable and healthy human society. On World Nature Conservation Day, learn about how NIFA-supported research and Extension at Land-grant Universities are helping conserve and protect the environment and natural resources via climate smart agriculture and forestry.

Since 1900, New York state has lost 60% of its wetlands as land was cleared for agriculture. Wetland restoration, while beneficial for many reasons, can also lead to increased production of greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. At Cornell University, researchers sought to better understand the role of alder trees in restoring wetlands.

They found that wetland reforestation with nitrogen-fixing plants like alder trees do help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Alder trees work symbiotically with soil bacteria: The bacteria pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to the trees, and the trees give back sugar to the bacteria, benefiting both partners. Even though the soil microorganisms were producing more nitrogen, the trees were taking it up before it could be released into the atmosphere. Wetlands reforestation with nitrogen-fixing plants like alder trees also aids soil recovery, but slowly: The researchers project that restored wetlands at a site near Ithaca, New York, will need 26-32 years of tree growth to recover to 90% of their original capacity.

Residential energy efficiency is widely considered to be one of the most cost-effective strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As such, it has become central to climate policy around the world, with billions of dollars invested annually to unlock its potential. Independent of climate change policy, many energy efficiency programs focus on other benefits, such as reduced energy costs for low-income households and reduced pressure on energy generation capacity. However, these programs will be less cost-effective than anticipated if realized savings from energy efficiency fall short of expectations.

At the University of Illinois, researchers conducted three large studies to help improve outcomes in energy efficiency programs and in the Weatherization Assistance Program in particular. These studies were conducted in collaboration with the Illinois implementation of the program and have involved extensive engagement with more than 30 agencies that support the program. As a result, the researchers identified the factors that drive underperformance in the nation's largest energy efficiency program and tested the impacts of two potential solutions. Decision makers in Illinois and in federal programs now are considering restructuring the program based on this evidence. 

Climate change is shifting weather patterns, altering the paths of the storms that provide life-giving water in many regions. The development of drought-resistant crops is becoming ever more important as climate change changes weather patterns and increases evaporation, drying out soil and vegetation.

Researchers at Auburn University have identified two genes that appear to coordinate the fitness of plants in defending themselves from drought while also stimulating growth. The genes appear to be unique, feasible candidates for introduction into the genomes of other plants to generate crops that are truly tolerant of drought. Scientists now are working on designing a gene cassette that can be used to insert the desired genes into other plants to engineer induced systemic tolerance commercial-grade drought tolerance in plants.

Top photo: Left image of women holding plant. Right image two hands holding together a green young plant. Images courtesy of Adobe Stock. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
U.S. States and Territories
Alabama,
Illinois,
New York
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