The Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem Research (LTAR) Network: A New In-Situ Data Network For Agriculture

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 1:40 PM
Mark R Walbridge, Agricultural Research Service Beltsville, Office of National Programs, Beltsville, MD, United States
Agriculture in the 21st Century faces significant challenges due to increases in the demand for agricultural products from a global population expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, changes in land use that are reducing the area of arable land worldwide, and the uncertainties associated with increasing climate variability and change. There is broad agreement that meeting these challenges will require significant changes in agro-ecosystem management at the landscape scale. In 2012, the USDA/ARS announced the reorganization of 10 existing benchmark watersheds, experimental ranges, and research farms into a Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network. Earlier this year, the LTAR network expanded to 18 sites, including 3 led by land grant universities and/or private foundations. The central question addressed by the LTAR network is, “How do we sustain or enhance productivity, profitability, and ecosystem services in agro-ecosystems and agricultural landscapes”? All 18 LTAR sites possess rich historical databases that extend up to 100 years into the past. However as LTAR moves forward, the focus is on collecting a core set of common measurements over the next 30-50 years that can be used to draw inferences regarding the nature of agricultural sustainability and how it varies across regional and continental-scale gradients. As such, LTAR is part long-term research network and part observatory network. Rather than focusing on a single site, each LTAR has developed regional partnerships that allow it to address agro-ecosystem function in the large basins and eco-climatic zones that underpin regional food production systems. Partners include other long-term in-situ data networks (e.g., Ameriflux, CZO, GRACEnet, LTER, NEON). ‘Next steps’ include designing and implementing a cross-site experiment addressing LTAR’s central question.