Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From small to large, New Hampshire to Beijing - a new hope in light of DNDC

Recently the University of New Hampshire and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing announced a joint project to study the environmental impact of large-scale agricultural productions.

I’ve always thought the way industrial farming and CAFO practices are unsound if not dangerous. But in the U.S., we have more land per capita and more resources per industrial expenditure; we are not so worried about impacting the land, air, and polluting our waters. The threats from large-scale agriculture productions are diluted by our distinct advantage of vast land mass and limited population.

In China, it’s a different story. China is almost as large as the U.S., but it houses over 20% of the world’s population. Our water is plentiful; well, at least when you step away from the western states. Our land is fertile and petro-chemicals priced reasonable and subsidized. Our air is breathable and with the Clean Air Act, we are feeling better about ourselves with each passing day. We don’t feel the need to innovate at the level of competitiveness brought by our Chinese counterpart, not yet.

How long will our good fortunes last?

Perhaps our environmental problems will never reach the level felt by the Chinese. As China struggle to feed its people with less than 7% of the world’s cultivatable land, and at the wake of its long standing crop yield focus, severe environmental harms surfaced. Air pollution is unbearable, water is unusable even for irrigation, and the land is depleted while densification rate is alarming.

"In China, agricultural studies have long been focused only on crop yield, but since Chinese agricultural practices have caused severe environmental pollution, including water eutrophication, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the government finally decided to think not only about crop yield but the impacts on environmental health and safety . . . ."

Changsheng Li, research professor in the Complex Systems Research Center at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, UNH. (Professor Li has developed over the past 15 years an internationally recognized biogeochemistry model known as DNDC, or denitrification-decomposition. The DNDC mathematical model is used by nations worldwide to help assess agro-ecosystem carbon, nitrogen and water cycling in a global climate change environment.)

Aside from being led by our noses in the sustainability innovation from our lack of incentives, I applaud the efforts by UNH to create such an effort. I had written a few days ago about the need for this kind of Sino-U.S. cooperation. I just hope American farmers will open their minds to the findings of this kind of research. But seeing the recent attack on scientific research by right winged media, I have my doubts.

Worries aside, I am excited for the University of New Hampshire creating the CAAS-UNH Joint Laboratory for Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems Research in a joint effort with China. From my understanding, the DNDC model can be applied to small organic farmers as well as large industrial farming. Professor Li explained the model’s ability to scale up as sort of a grassroots filtration system, where the best practices are pushed upward towards industrial sized farmers while innovative practices are tested at the small-scale family operations.

No comments:

Post a Comment