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Villanova Researchers Find Improved Farming Techniques Boost Carbon Storage in Christmas Tree Farm Soil, Counteracting Climate Change

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Freshly cut Christmas trees strapped to the roofs of cars are rapidly becoming a familiar sight as the holidays approach. But, few of those choosing their perfect tree from a corner lot realize that they are making a modest contribution to climate change reversal.

Carbon storage in the soil of Christmas tree farms could offset harmful man-made emissions that are released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, says Villanova University biologist Samantha K. Chapman. According to research done by Chapman and her colleagues, applying improved agroforestry management techniques such as increasing the amount of groundcover while decreasing the use of herbicides makes Christmas tree farms a progressively more sustainable enterprise.

“Buying a real tree is a green practice,” Chapman remarked.

Chapman, Villanova Biology Professor J. Adam Langley, and Villanova undergraduate student Reena U. Palanivel detailed the results of their four-year research project monitoring soil carbon storage and the agroforestry practices of Christmas tree farms in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina in the November 2012 issue of Soil Science Society of America Journal. Funded by a United States Department of Agriculture grant, the team’s research concluded that cutting down on herbicide, planting more groundcover between crop plants, and exercising better land-use planning techniques can double carbon storage, boost the potential profitability of Christmas tree farms, and extend the use of farmland. Their findings could have direct implications for carbon storage in other types of land use as well.

Should the United States follow the lead of countries that have signed on to cap-and-trade initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol – an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which sets binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – or of California’s Carbon Market, farmers could enjoy an economic incentive for managing their land differently to maximize carbon storage. The amount of carbon stored by fostering growth of plants between trees would be worth about $500 or more per acre in carbon offsets at current market value, according to Chapman.

“Villanova’s research project on Christmas trees and carbon storage presented a unique opportunity to connect with farmers while at the same time linking to something bigger like climate change,” Chapman commented.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.