Planning for Resilience: Using Scenarios to Address Potential Impacts of Climate Change for the Northern Plains Beef System

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Purpose

Resiliency to weather extremes is a topic that Northern Plains farmers and ranchers are already familiar with, but now climate change is adding new uncertainties that make it difficult to know the best practices for the future. Scenario planning is a method of needs assessment that will allow Extension and beef system stakeholders to come together using the latest climate science to discover robust management options, highlight key uncertainties, prioritize Extension programming needs, and provide an open forum for discussion for this sometimes controversial topic.

Overall objectives:

1. Determine a suite of key future scenarios based on climate science that are plausible, divergent, relevant, and challenging to the beef industry.

2. Determine robust management options that address the key scenario drivers.

3. Develop a plan for Extension programming to address determined educational needs.

What did we do?

A team of researchers, Extension specialists, and educators was formed with members from University of Nebraska and South Dakota State University. They gathered the current research information on historical climate trends, projections in future climate for the region, and anticipated impacts to the beef industry. These were summarized in a series of white papers.

Three locations were selected to host two half day focus groups, representing the major production regions. A diverse group representing the beef industry of each region including feedlot managers, cow calf ranchers, diversified producers, veterinarians, bankers, NRCS personnel, and other allied industries. The first focus group started with a discussion of the participants past experiences with weather impacts. The team then provided short presentations starting with historic climate trends and projection, anticipated impacts, and uncertainties. The participants then combined critical climate drivers as axis in a 2×2 grids, each generating a set of four scenarios. They then listed impacts for each combination. The impacts boundaries were feed production through transporting finished cattle off-farm.

Project personnel then combined the results of all three locations to prioritize the top scenarios, which were turned into a series of graphics and narratives. The participants were then brought together for a second focus group to brainstorm management and technology options that producers were already implementing or might consider implementing. These were then sorted based on their effectiveness across multiple climate scenarios, or robustness. The options where also sorted by the readiness of the known information: Extension materials already available, research data available but few Extension materials, and research needed.

Graphic depicting warm/dry, warm/wet, cold/dry, cold/wet conditions on the farm during winter-spring

Graphic depicting hot/dry, hot/wet, cool/dry, cool/wet conditions on the farm during summer-fall

What have we learned?

The key climate drivers were consistent across all focus groups: temperature and precipitation, ranging from below average to above average. In order to best capture the impacts, the participants separated winter/spring and summer/fall.

This method of using focus groups as our initial interaction with producers on climate change was well received. Most all farmers love to talk about the weather, so discussing historical trends and their experiences with it as well as being upfront with the uncertainties in future projections, while emphasizing the need for proactive planning seemed to resonate.

With so many competing interests for producers’ time, as well as a new programming area, it was critical to have trusted local educators to invite participants. Getting participants to the second round of focus groups was also more difficult, so future efforts should considering hosting a single, full day focus group, or allowing the participants to set the date for the second focus group, providing more motivation to attend.

Future Plans

The scenarios and related management options will be used to develop and enhance Extension programming and resources as well as inform new research efforts. The goal is to provide a suite of robust management options and tools to help producers make better decisions for their operation.

Corresponding author, title, and affiliation

Crystal Powers, Extension Engineer, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Corresponding author email

cpowers2@unl.edu

Other authors

Rick Stowell, Associate Professor at University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Additional information

Crystal Powers

402-472-0888

155 Chase Hall, East Campus

Lincoln, NE 68583

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the project team:

University of Nebraska – Lincoln: Troy Walz, Daren Redfearn, Tyler Williams, Al Dutcher, Larry Howard, Steve Hu, Matthew Luebbe, Galen Erickson, Tonya Haigh

South Dakota State University: Erin Cortus, Joseph Darrington,

This project was supported by the USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub and Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-67003-30206 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2017. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Cary, NC. April 18-21, 2017. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Talking Climate with Animal Agriculture Advisers


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Purpose             

The Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate (AACC) project was established to leverage limited Extension expertise across the country in climate change mitigation and adaptation, with the goal of building capacity among Extension professionals and other livestock advisers to address climate change issues.

What did we do? 

The Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate project team created a suite of educational programs and products to build capacity across the United States. Key products of the project:

  • Online courses: 363 participants registered with a 35% completion rate (Whitefield et al., JOE, 2016)
  • National and regional symposia and workshops: 11 face-to-face conferences with approximately 1,350 attendees.
  • Website: Over 5,900 users with over 21,100 total views. Project videos have received nearly 8,900 views.
  • Social media: AACC weekly blog (990 subscribers); daily Southeast Climate Blog (38,506 site visits); regional newsletters (627 subscribers); Facebook & Twitter (280 followers)
  • Ready-to-use videos, slide sets, and fact sheets
  • Educational programming: 390 presentations at local, regional, and international meetings
  • Collaboration with 14 related research and education projects

What have we learned? 

A survey was sent out to participants in any of the project efforts, in the third year of the project and again in year five. Overall, participants found the project resources valuable, particularly the project website, the online course, and regional meetings. We surveyed two key measures: abilities and motivations. Overall, 60% or more of respondents report being able or very able to address all eight capabilities after their participation in the AACC program. A sizeable increase in respondent motivation (motivated or very motivated) existed after participation in the program, particularly for helping producers take steps to address climate change, informing others about greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, answering client questions, and adding new information to programs or curriculum.

The first challenge in building capacity in Extension professionals was finding key communication methods to engage them. Two key strategies identified were to: 1) start programming with a discussion of historical trends and agricultural impacts, as locally relevant as available, and 2) start the discussion around adaptation rather than mitigation. Seeing the changes that are already apparent in the climatic record and how agriculture has adapted in the past and is adapting to more recent weather variability and climatic changes often were excellent discussion starters.

Another challenge was that many were comfortable with the science, but were unsure how to effectively communicate that science with the sometimes controversial discussions that surround climate change. This prompted us to include climate science communication in most of the professional development opportunities, which were then consistently rated as one of the most valuable topics.

Future Plans    

The project funding ended on March 31, 2017. All project materials will continue to be available on the LPELC webpage.

Corresponding author, title, and affiliation        

Crystal Powers, Extension Engineer, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Corresponding author email    

cpowers2@unl.edu

Other authors   

Rick Stowell, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Additional information

lpelc.org/animal-agriculture-and-climate-change

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the project team:

Rick Stowell, Crystal Powers, and Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Mark Risse, Pam Knox, and Gary Hawkins, University of Georgia

Larry Jacobson and David Schmidt, University of Minnesota

Saqib Mukhtar, University of Florida

David Smith, Texas A&M University

Joe Harrison and Liz Whitefield, Washington State University

Curt Gooch and Jennifer Pronto, Cornell University

This project was supported by Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2011-67003-30206 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

 

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2017. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Cary, NC. April 18-21, 2017. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Sources of Agricultural Greenhouse Gases

The conversation about climate change largely revolves around greenhouse gases. Agriculture is both a source and sink for greenhouse gases (GHG). A source is a net contribution to the atmosphere, while a sink is a net withdrawal of greenhouse gases.  In the United States, agriculture is a relatively small contributor, with approximately 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, as seen in Figure 1.

Most agricultural emissions originate from soil management, enteric fermentation (microbial action in the digestive system), energy use, and manure management (Figure 2).  The primary greenhouse gases related to agriculture are (in descending order of magnitude) methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide.

Fact sheet: Contribution of Greenhouse Gases: Animal Agriculture in Perspective (look below the preview box and title for a download link)

U.S. GHG Inventory Figure 1: U.S. greenhouse gas inventory with electricity distributed to economic sectors (EPA, 2013) 

Ag Sources of GHGs

Figure 2: U.S. agricultural greenhouse gas sources (Adapted from Archibeque, S. et al., 2012)

Animal Agriculture’s Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Within animal production, the largest emissions are from beef followed by dairy, and largely dominated by the methane produced in during cattle digestion (Figure 3).

Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in 2008

Figure 3: Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in 2008 (USDA, 2011)

Excess nitrogen in agriculture systems can be converted to nitrous oxide through the nitrification-denitrification process. Nitrous oxide is a very potent greenhouse gas, with 310 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  Nitrous oxide can be produced in soils following fertilizer application. This includes both commercial, inorganic fertilizer as well as organic fertilizers like manure or compost.

As crops grow, photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the plants and soil life. Soil and plant respiration adds carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere when microbes or plants breakdown molecules to produce energy.  Respiration is an essential part of growth and maintenance for most life on earth. This repeats with each growth, harvest, and decay cycle, therefore, feedstuffs and foods are generally considered to be carbon “neutral.”

Some carbon dioxide is stored in soils for long periods of time.  The processes that result in carbon accumulation are called carbon sinks or carbon sequestration.  Crop production and grazing management practices influence the soil’s ability to be a net source or sink for greenhouse gases.  Managing soils in ways that increase organic matter levels can increase the accumulation (sink) of soil carbon for many years.

Enteric Fermentation

The next largest portion of livestock greenhouse gas emissions is from methane produced during enteric fermentation in ruminants – a natural part of ruminant digestion where microbes in the first chamber of the stomach, the rumen, breaks down feed and produces methane as a by-product. The methane is released  primarily through belching.

As with plants, animals respire carbon dioxide, but also store some in their bodies, so they too are considered a neutral source of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Manure Management

A similar microbial process to enteric fermentation leads to methane production from stored manure.  Anytime the manure sits for more than a couple days in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment, methane will likely be produced.  Methane can be generated in the animal housing, manure storage, and during manure application. Additionally, small amounts of methane is produced from manure deposited on grazing lands.

Nitrous oxide is also produced from manure storage surfaces, during land application, and from manure in bedded packs & lots. Related: Archived webinar on GHG Emissions Research in Animal Ag

Other sources

There are many smaller sources of greenhouse gases on farms. Combustion engines exhaust carbon dioxide from fossil fuel (previously stored carbon) powered vehicles and equipment.  Manufacturing of farm inputs, including fuel, electricity, machinery, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, plastics, and building materials, also results in emissions.

To learn more about how farm emissions are determined and see species specific examples, see the Carbon Footprint resources.

To learn about how to reduce on-farm emissions through mitigation technology and management options, see the Reducing Emissions resources.

Carbon Footprint

Definition: carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions for a given person, place, event or product.

Carbon footprints are created using a process called life cycle assessment. Life cycle assessment or LCA is a method of resource accounting where quantitative measures of inputs, outputs and impacts of a product are determined.

Life cycle assessment is commonly used to:

  • find process or production improvements
  • compare different systems or products
  • find the ‘hot spots’ in a product’s life cycle where the most environmental impacts are made
  • help businesses or consumers make informed sourcing decisions

diagram

Key Assumptions

boundaries of the system: each higher tier provides a more complete picture of the product’s impacts, however requires more time and resources to complete.

  1. Gate to Gate (LCA Tier I) – inventories the direct emissions for a single product of process
  2. Cradle to Gate (Tier II) – inputs are taken back to the initial extraction as natural resources up to a certain point in the product’s life such as its sale from the farm, i.e. farm gate.  This will include both direct  and indirect emissions from the product.
  3. Cradle To Grave (Tier III) – the product is followed through the consumer to its eventual recycling or disposal.

Sources of variation

Different researchers may get different results when performing a LCA on the same product. This can happen for many reasons:

  • System boundary definition
  • Inclusion/exclusion of secondary/ indirect sources
  • Inclusion/exclusion of biogenic carbon (stored in organisms)
  • Inclusion/exclusion of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion
  • Functional relationships used
  • Global warming potential indexes
  • Inclusion/exclusion of carbon sequestration

Related: Six archived webinars on the sources of animal ag ghg’s (some are general and some are species-specific)

Educator Materials

If you would like to use the video, slides, or factsheet for educational programs, please visit the curriculum page for download links for this and other climate change topics.

Recommended Reading – How Many Greenhouse Gases Does Agriculture Emit?

To find more resources on this and related topics, visit the animalagclimatechange.org resource finder.

U.S. Agriculture Emissions

International Agriculture Emissions

Carbon Footprints and Life Cycle Analysis

Greenhouse Gas Regulations for Animal Agriculture

Visit Climate Change Regulation, Policy, and Market Opportunities

Acknowledgements

Author: Crystal A. Powers – University of Nebraska-Lincoln cpowers2@unl.edu

This material was developed through support from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under award #2011-67003-30206.

Communicating Science during Controversy

Climate change as a topic of discussion in animal agriculture circles can be controversial. Often we believe “if they only understood the facts, they would agree with us.” However, this method only works with a small part of the population. Opinion formation is very complex and includes many other factors besides scientific facts, such as emotion, values, and trust.

Related: Recorded webinar on “Communicating Amidst Controversy

Fear-based messaging has been frequently used as an attempt to provide a spark that will lead to further learning and behavioral changes. However, these messages must be coupled with both information and support in order to be effective. Without these two resources, people often suffer from feelings of helplessness, remoteness, and lack of control over the situation which all prevent behavior change from occurring.

The goal of our communications is open-minded, unbiased consideration of all the facts. How do we create such an environment? 

White paper: Communicating Controversy in Agricultural Extension on the Topic of Climate Change: A Summarized Review

Strategies:

  1. Understanding your audience – people look for information that is consistent with what they already think, want, or feel. Identify misconceptions understand the context within which they make decisions.
  2. Get their attention – People typically perceive immediate threats as more relevant and of greater urgency than future problem. So focus on how climate is impacted them today and how smaller costs now can prevent larger losses in the future. Use stories to frame the issue in ways that relate to their values.
  3. Translate science into concrete experienceUse vivid imagery to discuss potential solutions up front, particularly highlighting any benefits.
  4. Effectively communicate uncertainty – explain the difference between knowing the causes of climate change and uncertainty about what to do about it.  Use risk management as an effective way to discuss how to evaluate solutions.
  5. Tap Into Social Identities and Affiliations – create connections between your audience, the environment, and society using diverse advocates.
  6. Encourage Group Participation  – encourage small group discussion and facilitate groups that can continue to meet and discuss.
  7. Minimize bias In order to reduce bias, it is critical to recognize your own values and biases. Checks and balances within your team as well as allowing for public input early in development of products will help provide transparency about your agenda. Emphasizing the need for continued learning is important and acknowledges the fact that there is a lot of information out there that can’t be covered in short periods of time.

Educator Materials

To download the video, white paper, or other materials for use in educational programs, visit our curriculum page.

Recommended Resources

This project hosted a webinar on “Communicating Amidst Controversy” The archive page includes links to view individual segments, download them, and access handouts of the presentation slides.

To find more resources on this and related topics, visit the animalagclimatechange.org resource finder.

Acknowledgements

This page was developed as part of a project “Animal Agriculture and Climate Change” an extension facilitation project to increase capacity for ag professionals. It was funded by USDA-NIFA under award # 2011-67003-30206.

Author: Crystal Powers, University of Nebraska – Lincoln cpowers2@unl.edu

Animal Agriculture for a Changing Climate – Stakeholder Forum

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Why Is This Topic Important?

Climate change adaptation and mitigation is an emerging issue for animal agriculture research and extension.  A national team of Extension professionals is developing a web-based educational course, website, and related materials to provide comprehensive education for Extension agents and educators about the latest research, management methods, and tools.  The objectives of this project are: 1) to build a foundation of knowledge; 2) facilitate learning across U.S. regions, and; 3) provide a shorter time from research to extension to application.  The project has a P.I. and an Extension professional in each of five regions across the United States as well as a national P.I. and project coordinator to facilitate having a coordinated national educational effort that is regionally relevant and accessible.     

What Will Be Learned In This Presentation?

The goal of the forum will be to hear from stakeholders: farmers, industry, Extension, and others on how this project, and Extension generally, can best serve their needs related to climate change.

Presenters

Crystal Powers, Project Coordinator Animal Agriculture and Climate Change, University of Nebraska – Lincoln cpowers2@unl.edu

Each of these Extension Professionals is a Regional coordinator for the Animal Agriculture and Climate Change Project.

  • Pam Knox, Southeastern Region, University of Georgia
  • Jennifer Pronto, Northeastern Region, Cornell University
  • David Schmidt, Midwestern Region, University of Minnesota
  • David Smith, Southwestern Region, Texas A&M University
  • Elizabeth Whitefield, Western Region, Washington State University

 

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Carbon Footprints

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions for a given person, place, event or product.

Carbon footprints are created using a process called life cycle assessment. Life cycle assessment or LCA is a method of resource accounting where quantitative measures of inputs, outputs and impacts of a product are determined.

Life cycle assessment is commonly used to:

  • find process or production improvements
  • compare different systems or products
  • find the ‘hot spots’ in a product’s life cycle where the most environmental impacts are made
  • help businesses or consumers make informed sourcing decisions

LCA Methods

There are several standard approaches for developing a life cycle assessment including the International Dairy Federation, the U.S. EPA, and two European standards: ISO 14040, and PSA 2050.  While this can be completed with a simple spreadsheet, there are several software packages available to help complete the LCA

Steps to a Life Cycle Analysis:

  1. Define the goal & scope of the LCA. This includes determining the purpose for the analysis.
  2. Set the boundaries of the system: each higher tier provides a more complete picture of the product’s impacts, however requires more time and resources to complete.
    1. Gate to Gate (LCA Tier I) – inventories the direct emissions for a single product of process
    2. Cradle to Gate (Tier II) – inputs are taken back to the initial extraction as natural resources up to a certain point in the product’s life such as its sale from the farm, i.e. farm gate.  This will include both direct  and indirect emissions from the product.
    3. Cradle To Grave (Tier III) – the product is followed through the consumer to its eventual recycling or disposal.
  3. Determine how the impacts will be measured, also known as the functional unit. This can be expressed as the net sum of all impacts per unit of product, or the opposite: for a given amount of product, the amount of impact e.g. pounds of greenhouse gas emissions produced per pound of energy corrected milk.
    • Example impacts: greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, health impact
    • Example livestock products: Pound of meat, dozen eggs, energy corrected milk production, nutritional content.
  4. Inventory the needed data. Information is gathered to identify and quantify energy, water and materials usage and the environmental releases associated with each step of the process. These data are collected through research and modeling for many different inputs, from coal mining to equipment manufacturing, and are available through worldwide databases. However, some of the needed data may not yet be available so research articles, models and assumptions must be used to fill in the final informaion.
  5. Allocate resources and impacts to co-products. For example in dairy production, feeder cattle for meat production are also grown. The impacts of dairy feeder production can be included in the milk LCA, because calves are necessary for milk production, or a portion of the impacts can be allocated to beef production. This allocation can be made several ways, with the most common being economic, i.e. the calves are 10% of the value of dairy enterprise, or mass, i.e. the calves are 1% of the mass leaving the farm.
  6. Impact assessment. This is where all the impacts are totaled and summarized. If the purpose of the LCA was to produce a carbon footprint, then only greenhouse gas impacts need totaled. However, multiple impacts can be compared and given different weighting if an overall score for a product is part of the purpose for the LCA.

Sources of variation

Different researchers may get different results when performing a LCA on the same product. This can happen for many reasons:

  • System boundary definition
  • Inclusion/exclusion of secondary/ indirect sources
  • Inclusion/exclusion of biogenic carbon (stored in organisims)
  • Inclusion/exclusion of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion
  • Functional relationships used
  • Global warming potential indexes
  • Inclusion/exclusion of carbon sequestration

Additional Resources

Additional Animal Agriculture and Climate Change Resources

Climate Science Resources

Basic Climate Science (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 2012)

2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) on Climate Change

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (Karl, T. et al., 2009)

Carbon, Climate Change and Controversy (Shepherd, J. M., 2011)

Global Climate Change Causes – web site (NASA, 2012)

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

The Modern Temperature Record (American Institute of Physics)


Author: Crystal A. Powers – UNL
Reviewers: J. Harrison – WSU, J. Heemstra – UNL, S Mukhtar – TAMU, D. Smith – TAMU

Planning for Climate Resiliency

Resiliency to weather risk is, on one hand, a topic that farmers and ranchers are already familiar with, but now climate change is adding new uncertainties that make it difficult to know the best practices for the future. Scenario planning, discussed in this webinar, is a method of risk assessment. This presentation was originally broadcast on January 20, 2017. More… Continue reading “Planning for Climate Resiliency”

Scientific Overview of Agricultural Carbon Research & the Implications for Climate

In response to the rapid pace of global climate change, the work of the Marin Carbon Project and the Carbon Cycle Institute has focused on measuring the effects of rangeland management practices and their implications for carbon sequestration into permanent soil carbon pools. This presentation was originally broadcast on April 11, 2014. More… Continue reading “Scientific Overview of Agricultural Carbon Research & the Implications for Climate”