University of Georgia researchers recently joined a national team of scientists working on a five-year, $4.1-million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant designed around climate change’s effects on animal agriculture.

“Animal production is vitally important to Georgia’s economy,” said Mark Risse, an engineer with UGA Cooperative Extension who is leading the research at UGA.

“In 2009, poultry, beef cattle, dairy and swine accounted for nearly $5 billion of the agricultural value in Georgia. It is important to keep our animal producers informed of practices that are environmentally sound, climatically compatible and economically viable.”

The goal of the USDA grant is to help livestock and poultry producers adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, especially as they face new weather patterns or regulations put in place to limit greenhouse gases.

“In the Southeast, we are more interested in how our animals will respond to water,” Risse said. “As a region, the South is predominately poultry, so we will look heavily at the poultry industry and at what changes the industry may need to make and will focus on how to best equip producers to adapt to these changes.”

More weather extremes predicted

Risse is working with the Southeast Climate Consortium to identify climate projections that may affect animal agriculture. The consortium is predicting more weather extremes — including more droughts and more flooding in the Southeast.

Rainfall is expected to remain the same annually, but it will be delivered in more concentrated rainstorms. Temperature increases aren’t expected to be as great as those in other regions of the U.S.

Risse, along with UGA Extension, will work with producers in Georgia and across the Southeast to develop strategies to help lower animal management’s impacts on the climate.

“Roughly 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions nationally are due to agriculture production,” Risse said.

“But if we get to a point where greenhouse gases from poultry and livestock farms are being regulated, we need to have mitigation strategies in place to help producers reduce their emissions.”

With manure management, harnessing the gases as fuel is often a more economical practice than releasing it into the atmosphere, according to Risse.

“You can use those gases on the farm as fuel instead of just letting them escape to the atmosphere,” he said.

This is the third in a series of grants on environmental issues and animal agriculture that the National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center have addressed.

Previous projects have focused on air and water quality.

The other universities involved in the project are University of Nebraska, Washington State University, Texas A&M University, Cornell University and the University of Minnesota.

The National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center will be the online resource for updated information.

For more information, visit http://www.extension.org/animal_manure_management. Find more information related to Southeastern climate change at http://www.agroclimate.org.