WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that Sandia National Laboratories will receive $2.4 million to identify crops that take in less water, reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizer, trap carbon deep in the soil, and improve soil quality.
The project is being funded through one of the newest programs of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS). ROOTS seeks to respond to the growing problem of soil “carbon debt” by advancing crops that are better able to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store them in their root systems and the surrounding soil. Advances in agriculture have resulted in a ten-fold increase in crop yield over the past century. But that increased yield has contributed to reduced soil quality, diminishing its ability to support healthy crops over time -- increasing the need for water and pollution-heavy fertilizer. Sandia's project is one of 10 selected for funding through ARPA-E's ROOTS program, which altogether will receive $35 million to develop crops that could improve soil quality, reduce the reliance on fertilizer, use less water and generate less carbon pollution, making future agriculture more productive and resilient from climate change and drought. Sandia’s team will focus on developing sensor technologies and data analytics and modeling to more easily and accurately measure crop and soil conditions.
"Farmers and anyone else who relies on water and weather know that New Mexico is in the bull's eye when it comes to the impacts of climate change. It's imperitive that we take steps to reduce global warming, while also developing ways to adapt -- including getting the most out of every drop of water. This innovative research at Sandia will help future farmers in New Mexico and around the world by developing crops that are stronger in drought conditions, less reliant on fertilizer, and that actually reduce carbon emissions," Udall said. "I'm proud of the leading work that Sandia Labs and the rest of the Department of Energy are doing to learn more about how we can adapt to our changing environment and reduce the impact of climate change. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I'll keep fighting for funding to cutting edge research at ARPA-E and other DOE science programs that support work at New Mexico's national labs and research universities."
"New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers play a critical role in our economy. Challenges resulting from climate change such as long-term drought, water shortages, and higher average temperatures have made farming and raising livestock increasingly difficult," said Heinrich. "This research could lead to improved varieties of drought-tolerant sorghum grasses that have the potential to help ranchers adapt to drought stress. I am proud to see this $2.4 million investment in Sandia’s research, which has incredible potential to help us advance soil and water conservation. This is another example of the innovative research and development conducted at our national labs. When the ingenuity at our national labs creates vital new technologies, it drives our state’s economy forward."
The release from the ARPA-E can be found here.