Katherine Tully, Ph.D., assistant professor of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland, was recently awarded $1.1 million by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to further her research on sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Saltwater intrusion reduces soil quality and crop productivity, and increases pollution of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into local waterways around the Chesapeake Bay. Tully’s research combines crop research, wetland ecology, geological and chemical analyses, and economic modeling to determine what crop management strategies work in saltier environments and to identify practical applications that will be the most cost effective and profitable to farmers, while also protecting the environment.
“The first European colonies were established in the Chesapeake Bay region, making this home to some America’s first farmlands. Sadly, some of the farms losing land to sea level rise date back to the 1630s,” explains Tully, assistant professor in UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In some places, tidal marshes are not just taking over fields, but creating ghost towns. It is another side effect of our changing climate and a threat to our agricultural industry and the viability of farming in this area.”
The research will be conducted through a variety of field trials and greenhouse experiments that will help determine what crops can survive and are productive in the new saltier environment. Trade-off analysis will be conducted to determine the best options for farmers economically, while also protecting the environment and the Bay from added nutrient runoff. Tully's multi-disciplinary team of collaborators includes Dr. Keryn Gedan (George Washington University), Dr. Jarrod Miller (University of Delaware), and Dr. Rebecca Epanchin-Niell (Resources for the Future).
“Our long-term goal is the development of agroecosystems that are resilient in the face of rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion,” says Tully. “But this project is unique in that it combines many different disciplines and takes research directly into practical application and education for the farming community. Once we determine what the most cost effective strategies are, we will be sharing our results with farmers and extension agents to directly improve environmental and economic outcomes.”
The project’s outreach initiatives will include webinars, the creation of educational materials, and train-the-trainer sessions to help ensure that the information is distributed as widely as possible.
“We are very excited about this project and the opportunity to expand it further,” says Tully. “It supports the College’s goals to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, advance agricultural production and farm viability, and promote environmental health and awareness in the face of a changing climate.”