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One way to mitigate the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is to remove it from the atmosphere by increasing the amount of carbon stored (sequestered) in soil. A key issue, therefore, is the degree to which production agriculture can contribute to this mitigation. Our studies focus on determining the potential for carbon storage in dryland and irrigated cropping systems in the north-central U.S.A and the factors that govern carbon sequestration. With recent funding from the Department of Energy, we have established a state-of the-art field research facility at the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead, Nebraska. The facility consists of three field study sites. These sites are large production fields (about 1/4 section in size = 65 ha). Two sites are equipped with center-pivot irrigation systems while the third site relies on rainfall. Initial focus is being placed on three major cropping systems: (1) irrigated continuous maize, (2) irrigated maize-soybean rotation, and (3) rainfed maize-soybean rotation. We have initiated detailed, interdisciplinary studies that will (a) quantify annual amounts of carbon stored, (b) develop reliable, cost effective procedures for predicting annual carbon storage, (c) improve our understanding of processes controlling soil carbon storage, and (d) develop improved management practices that increase carbon sequestration while at the same time improving production efficiency, profit, and environmental quality.

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