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Cutting Emissions Through Better Soil Management in Irrigated Farming

05 January 2014

An EU-funded project has been launched to improve the sustainable management of irrigated agricultural areas, in order to help mitigate the effects of climate change. This will be achieved through increased carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration - the process of capturing and storing atmospheric CO2 - and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The EU-funded RegaDIOX project was set up in July 2013 in order to identify the most suitable land-management practices for increasing soil carbon fixation and reducing GHG emissions. Scheduled to run for three years, the initiative will improve scientific knowledge on GHG emissions and carbon capture associated with irrigated agriculture systems - the artificial application of water to the land or soil - and demonstrate irrigated agriculture techniques capable of delivering positive climate change effects.

Various indicators will also be assessed and analysed in order to estimate carbon sequestration, energy consumed and the quantity of emissions generated in relation to soil management. A methodological guide to the best practices identified over the three years will be published.

In addition, the project aims to train up at least 30 professional farmers on the use of these new management models and techniques. Recommendations for fine-tuning agricultural and environmental policies at the regional, national and European level will also be made.

The introduction of modern irrigation systems has made agriculture possible in arid and semi-arid areas, bringing significant economic benefits. In the northern Spanish region of Navarra alone, 22 300 ha have already been transformed into irrigated land and a further 30 000 ha are planned.

However, such land-use changes can have a significant effect on GHG emissions. Agriculture is responsible for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions, without even considering associated energy consumption. These emissions originate mainly from the fermentation and oxidation of organic matter and nitrogenised compounds.

Atmospheric CO2 is used by plants to grow. When they die, the carbon can leach into the soil. Cultivating this earth can be optimised to prevent some of this carbon from returning to the atmosphere in the form of CO2, one of the main causes of global warming and climate change.

For the last ten years we've been working on the processes involved in incorporating and stabilising organic matter in the soil," says UPNA researcher Paloma Bescansa. "A fresh approach is linked to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and to keeping part of that CO2 in the soil, in the stored organic matter."

UPNA researcher Iñigo Virto says: "If the soil gains organic matter, not only can it partially prevent that return of CO2 to the atmosphere but it can also offer advantages from the point of view of soil fertility and help to cut erosion. Agriculture, with different systems of management, can influence the whole process and, in the case of irrigation, the soil may be able to retain more carbon."

RegaDIOX is a consortium made up of The Soil Management Group of the Public University of Navarre (UPNA), The Navarrese Institute of Agrifood Technologies and Infrastructure (INTIA) and the Foundation for Rural Development in Navarre (Fundagro). The EU is funding the project to the tune of EUR 468 332 through the Commission's LIFE Programme.


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