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Research

Approaching zero: Reducing water contamination and greenhouse gas emissions from Midwest dairy farms.

Abstract

The long-term goal of this proposed research is to investigate the effects of three dairy production systems (confined dairy with conventional till crop production, confined dairy with no-till crop production, and hybrid grazed dairy) on water quality and nutrient cycling and develop meaningful, integrated, environmental, economic, and social instruments for the implementation of long-term improved land and water resource use at the catchment, regional, continental, and global scale.

Description

Resilient and sustainable livestock production systems are key to the future security and prosperity of the United States of America. Global population growth is expected to increase to approximately 9-billion by 2050 and raises unprecedented and definitive environmental, economic, and societal challenges (Bongaarts, 2009). To meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber agricultural production will increasingly preserve and augment good quality land and water resources through enhanced efficiency and utilization of non-conventional resources and management practices (Foley et al., 2005; Pretty, 2008). Furthermore, by 2050, > 80% of agricultural projection is projected to come from increased productivity on presently cultivated land, however, increased agricultural production is frequently associated with management practices which degrade land and water resources (FAO, 2011). Therefore, understanding the long-term effects of livestock production on nutrient cycles and water quality within an agroecosystem is fundamental in ensuring our long-term sustainable future (Eshel et al., 2014). The Driftless Area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin is a highly productive agricultural landscape that encompasses portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It is referred to as the driftless region because this portion of the landscape was not glaciated during the Wisconsin Ice Age and lacks the “drift” deposits associated with glacial activity. Water resources are sensitive to contamination in this region due to the fractured bedrock which rapidly transmits water and contaminants; shallow soils which provide limited protection to groundwater resources, and steeply sloping cropland that can have high surface-water runoff contributing large amounts of sediment and nutrients to surface water bodies. In addition to water resources, the Driftless Area is a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the large number and intensive nature of agricultural production, including dairy, within this region. A recent survey of drinking water wells in southwest Wisconsin reported that in excess of 40% were contaminated with fecal coliform or contained nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in excess of the drinking water standard (Source 2019). The long-term goal of this proposed research is to investigate the effects of three dairy production systems (confined dairy with conventional till crop production, confined dairy with no-till crop production, and hybrid grazed dairy) on water quality and nutrient cycling and develop meaningful, integrated, environmental, economic, and social instruments for the implementation of long-term improved land and water resource use at the catchment, regional, continental, and global scale. To support our long-term goals we propose the following supporting objectives: i) extend research capacity of Pioneer Farm GHG monitoring to include CH4, N2O, and the atmospheric pollutant NH3; ii) install lysimeters within perennial pastures to complement vadose zone leaching monitoring currently conducted in agronomic fields, iii) investigate the relationship between dairy production systems and surface-water contamination (soil loss, nitrogen, phosphorus), groundwater contamination (bacterial, nitrate), and GHG and other atmospheric pollutant emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O, and NH3); iv) develop an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate researchers to participate in research activities; and v) communicate project results to stakeholders via the Net Zero, Global Farm Platform (www.globalfarmplatform.org), and USDA Long Term Agroecosystem Research collaborative partnerships.

Funding Body

USDA-NIFA

Lead Organisation

University of Wisconsin-Platteville

Partners

Harper Adams University; Global Farm Platform

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