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Reicosky determined to teach others about carbon

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/10/2011 8:50 AM

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MORRIS, Minn. — Retired Agricultural Research Service Soils Lab scientist Don Reicosky is anything but retired when it comes to carbon.

Reicosky, whose research proved carbon is preserved through no-till practices and lost during tillage, talks about managing the chemical element every chance he gets.

He took his message, via a Carbon 101 Workshop, recently to the University of Minnesota-Morris campus. Participants were a mix of students, teachers, farmers and city and county leaders. He gears his message particularly to students since "they will be the ones who will be dealing with what we have done," Reicosky said.

The workshop is designed to give people an "everyday understanding of the everyday environment with an emphasis on understanding the interaction between carbon and renewable energy," he said.

Renewable energy is good for the environment and has economic diversification and growth potential for rural areas.

"We took carbon cycling for granted at one time, but now it is apparent that it is having more of an affect on our environment," he said.

Call it global warming or climate change, something is happening, he said. Reicosky talked about ice chunks falling off glaciers, 36 months of high rainfall in Iowa and drought in Russia. Weather events have been more extreme and the precipitation in Minnesota has increased by 20 percent since the early 1900s.

"With respect to environmental quality, our activity is putting a strain on the natural functions of the earth and the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations," he said.

Agriculture is a crucial player in carbon, nitrogen and water cycles, he said. Tillage practices plus the increased use of drainage to increase soil aeration all result in soil carbon declines.

But, along with careful tillage practices, befoul production is a way to manage carbon, he said.

He's proud to see his tax dollars at work with Mum's renewable energy commitment, he said. The campus is burning biomass to heat and cool buildings. It is also getting a portion of its electricity from a wind turbine located at the nearby West Central Research and Outreach Center. WCROC is researching the turbine and its role in creating anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer production.

"This is the dawning of a new era in agriculture," Reicosky said of renewable fuel development.

Agriculture still has a responsibility to balance bioenergy production and environmental protection, he said.

"Soil carbon is an easy come, easy go," he said. "...Our nation's soils are a major component of our national security. Our soils are a fundamental foundation of our life and our economy."

The workshop included stops at UM-M's biomass gasification plant and a trip to Riverview's methane digester. Each is an example of managing biofuel production.

Such systems provide rural economic benefits plus environmental benefits including improved air and water quality, pathogen destruction, odor control, organic stability and decreased greenhouse gases.