GOAL 5: PROTECT AND ENHANCE THE NATION’S NATURAL RESOURCE BASE AND ENVIRONMENT
Analysis of Results: This goal focuses on a wide range of environmental issues related to agriculture. Under Goal 5, 14 Indicators (in Italics) are aligned under 7 Performance Measures. As the National Programs evolve, the Agency will report more accomplishments achieved by collaborative research at multiple locations involving more than one scientific discipline. Thus, we anticipate reporting fewer accomplishments, but accomplishments that are broader in scope that make greater contributions to American agriculture. While it is not possible to report research accomplishments numerically, the progress projected in these Indicators was completed or substantially completed during FY 2005. Thirty-one significant accomplishments are reported below.
OBJECTIVE 5.1: Provide Science-Based Knowledge and Education To Improve the Management of Forest, Rangelands, and Pastures.
Performance Measure 5.1.1: Develop ecologically-based information, technologies, germplasm, and management strategies that sustain agricultural production while conserving and enhancing the diverse natural resources found on rangelands and pasture lands.
During FY 2005, ARS will
provide increased understanding of genetic resources, genomics, and molecular processes of grasses, legumes, and other herbaceous plants that affect establishment, persistence, production and use so improved germplasm and cultivars can be released for pasture, harvested forages, turf, biofuels, rangeland restoration, and conservation.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Gulf Coast cattle producers depend heavily on tropical grasses for forage, but the nutritional value of these grasses drops during the late summer and fall. ARS scientists at Brooksville, Florida, have shown that the tropical forage legume, rhizoma peanut, can produce high cattle gains throughout the late summer and fall. However, use of current cultivars is limited to the warmer, well drained sites in the Gulf Coast region. Material better adapted to cold and wet conditions was needed to expand the impact of this forage species. As the result of two plant collection trips (in 2003 and 2004) to Paraguay, 65 new accessions of perennial peanut have been identified and made available for cultivar development.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Expanding the range of use of this legume will help producers avoid feeding expensive supplements and increase profitability. In addition to forage potential, some accessions appear to have potential for low maintenance turf and ornamental use.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The potential impact of using forage kochia, an arid land forb, for rangeland conservation and restoration was researched by ARS scientists at Logan, Utah. They assessed forage kochia’s adaptation, potential weediness, and forage and reclamation values. They found forage kochia is well adapted to the Western United States, will usually not spread into perennial plant communities, is distantly related to annual and native kochia, can improve the economic sustainability of livestock production, and can be used to stop the spread of wildfires.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Forage kochia can increase livestock producers’ profitability by extending the grazing season into the fall and winter, and help conserve and restore rangeland health by stabilizing soils, slowing the spread of invasive weeds, providing forages for wildlife and wild horses, and lowering the risk of wildfires.
provide forage and pasture management technologies and strategies that reduce inputs while improving livestock performance and sustaining the environment.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Farms in the Southern Plains often use a mixture of native rangeland, planted pastures, and croplands for livestock grazing. Past research concentrated primarily on management of individual forage sources and not integrating the mixture of forage options. ARS scientists at Woodward, Oklahoma, designed an integrated management system that allows for combining a variety of available forages to achieve an optimal combination for cow/calf operations. Integrated systems reduced the land required to support a cow from 20 to 12.5 acres. Beef production increased from 31 to 58 pounds per acre and net return doubled for rangeland versus complementary systems.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: These findings will help improve the profitability of livestock producers by reducing inputs and increasing outputs.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Nitrogen loss as ammonia gas from dairy barns can contribute to ecosystem fertilization and particulate formation that can adversely affect human health. ARS scientists at Madison, Wisconsin, and St. Paul, Minnesota, compared nitrogen cycling in a classic confinement-based feeding operation where manure is deposited, scraped from barns, and land applied versus corralling heifers on cropland to directly deposit manure. Ammonia losses are greater from the barn than corrals. The higher nitrogen return to soil in corrals enhances subsequent crop production.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: These findings will help producers improve economic returns by reducing fertilizer inputs and improve environmental sustainability by reducing air and water pollution.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Limited resource farmers often cannot use annual forage grasses because of the high costs associated with annual reseeding including planting, weed control, and fertilization. ARS scientists at Langston, Oklahoma, evaluated alternative harvest practices for annual ryegrass to determine the harvesting dates for optimizing forage yields while leaving sufficient grass to mature and produce adequate seed for self-seeding next year’s stand. The greatest seed deposition resulted in July following mid-April harvest. Maximum forage yield resulted from mid-May harvesting but produced inadequate seed for reseeding. Farmers need to evaluate the tradeoffs between seed production and forage yield in deciding when to harvest annual ryegrass.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This information provides producers with new options for balancing the tradeoffs between forage yield and planting costs to meet the economic limitations of their operations.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pregnant mares consuming endophyte infected tall fescue are at severe risk of developing “Equine Fescue Toxicosis” characterized by prolonged gestation, agalactia, increased foal and mare mortality, dystocia, placental aberrations, weak and dysmature foals, and altered hormone profiles. Solving these problems is limited by the lack of conclusive information concerning the identity and metabolic fate of potential toxins in horses. ARS scientists at Lexington, Kentucky, in collaboration with the University of Kentucky, have compared initial exposure of naïve horses to ergovaline and lysergic acid to that of follow-on subacute exposures. They found length of exposure had little to no effect on alkaloid retention or route of exposure indicating that metabolic pathways and tissues associated with alkaloid elimination were not compromised or enhanced by prior exposure. Additionally, data indicated that approximately 60 percent of the ergovaline consumed was retained by the animal over a 24 hour period, whereas lysergic acid was eliminated from the animals in greater amounts (less than180 percent of intake) than consumed.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: These findings indicate that the more complex alkaloids, such as ergovaline, are likely converted to lysergic acid for elimination. Therefore, methods to enhance this conversion, especially if lysergic acid proves to be less toxic than ergovaline, should improve horse tolerance to endophyte-infected tall fescue.
provide rangeland management technologies and strategies that reduce inputs while improving livestock performance and sustaining the environment including reducing the risks of wildfires, invasive weeds, and other threats by stabilizing, restoring, and monitoring degraded rangeland in an affordable and sustainable manner.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Dubois, Idaho, with their university counterparts, have found that as the duration of grazing decreases and stocking density increases, sheep will graze reproductive parts of exotic and invasive leafy spurge (Euphrobia esula) more than stem and leaf portions. The current season long grazing strategies recommended to manage leafy spurge negatively impact native plant species and can promote recruitment of other exotic species. Application of 480 sheep grazing-days equivalent during a 48-hour period caused a 50 percent decrease in standing leafy spurge flowers relative to 480 sheep grazing days during a 192-hour period; remaining total biomass and sheep performance was similar between the two strategies. Short duration, high density sheep grazing is a biocontrol tool that targets the reproduction of leafy spurge while minimizing negative grazing effects on native species.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: These findings will improve the control of invasive weeds with fewer adverse impacts on desirable vegetation.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Decline of aspen stands in the Great Basin and Inter-Mountain region is a major concern; in some cases it is linked to the Western juniper invasion. ARS scientists at Burns, Oregon, evaluated herbaceous, shrub, and aspen response to a combination of selective juniper cutting and seasonal prescribed fires aimed at restoring aspen woodlands. Results showed: 1) selective cutting combined with fall burning was highly effective at removing juniper and stimulating aspen recruitment, but reduced understory productivity and diversity; 2) selective cutting combined with spring burning was less effective at removing juniper and stimulating aspen response, but increased herbaceous standing crop and diversity; and 3) spring burning safely removed high fuel loads without risk of fire escape.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Private and public managers can use these findings on the trade-offs between management options to select the option that best meets their management goals.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Milk yield in beef cows is a major determinant of growth rate in beef calves but the factors affecting milk yield were not fully understood. ARS scientists at Miles City, Montana, evaluated the milk yield of first calf heifers born and raised within three calving systems and the impact on growth of their calves. Heifers whose calves were born in late winter through early spring differed in their milk yield from those born in late spring. Precipitation patterns for the year influenced whether the milk yield for heifers calving in late spring was greater or lesser than earlier calving heifers. Calf growth rate was related to milk yield.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Using this information on the relationship between calving date and milk production, producers will be able to improve their economic viability by developing management systems to best match nutrient needs of cow-calf pairs in different calving systems.
OBJECTIVE 5.2: Provide Science-Based Knowledge and Education To Improve Quality and Management of Soil, Air, and Water Resources.
Performance Measure 5.2.1: Develop the tools and techniques required to maintain and restore the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s watersheds and its surface and groundwater resources.
During FY 2005, ARS will
demonstrate how improved drainage management systems reduce nitrate-nitrogen runoff and improve the effectiveness of riparian areas and wetlands.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Nearly one-third of the farmers in the Midwest rely on underground or subsurface drainage to keep their plants healthy. ARS scientists in Columbus, Ohio, have shown that controlled subsurface drainage systems can increase corn and soybean yields and reduce nitrate losses by 30 to 40 percent. Under entirely different conditions, ARS researchers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, found that improvements in water quality with controlled drainage systems depend highly upon climatic conditions and that deep-chiseling is required to reduce both nitrate losses from surface and subsurface drainage systems. ARS scientists in Ames, Iowa, found that wood chips and other types of biological materials can act as filters when placed in shallow drainage systems to decrease nitrate losses under controlled drainage practices. The biological filters increase de-nitrification once the water becomes ponded above the drainage tile. All of these locations are currently cooperating on new experiments that compare these new technologies with conventional drainage systems to continue reducing water pollution hazards.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: The new nitrogen management technique reduced applied nitrogen by 35 to 40 pounds and input costs by more than $6 per acre.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Irrigators want to reduce nitrate contamination of ground and surface water supplies and, at the same time, need techniques that increase the efficiency of nitrogen (N) fertilizer use beyond current best management practices. A remotely sensed index (Nitrogen Reflectance Index calculated from crop reflectance in the green and near-infrared light spectrum) was evaluated to detect plant N deficiencies and recommend in-season N applications for a sprinkler irrigated cornfield in Eastern Colorado. The N applied by fertigation during the growing season totaled 94 pounds per acre from four applications on the remotely sensed portion of the field; the farmer applied a total of 129 pounds per acre in six applications on the remainder of the field. Average grain yields for the remotely sensed area and the remainder of the field was 214 and 205 bushels per acre, respectively.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This research along with university drainage research was the basis for forming the Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force, a technical work group of the USDA multi-agency Partnership Management Team. In 2002, cost sharing for drainage water management did not exist in any of the States. However, four Midwestern States are now cost sharing on controlled subsurface drainage in accordance with approved practice standards that met the conservation requirements of the FY 2002 farm bill.
develop at least one tool to enable farmers, ranchers, and Federal and State agencies to anticipate the initiation of drought and respond to ongoing water scarcity and drought through improved water management practices and understanding of climate forecasting.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) was developed over the past 30 years by a team of ARS researchers at Temple, Texas, in cooperation with other ARS scientists across the Nation. Over the past 4 years, the Environmental Protection Agency and ARS have made SWAT available to State agencies and consultants throughout the Nation to evaluate and assess water quality impairments and to assist in developing watershed plans for addressing specific problems like drought.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Recently, Texas legislators, water districts, and river authorities were impressed enough by SWAT to pay part of the costs for farmers in these areas to apply conservation measures where the SWAT model predicts increased surface flows in rivers.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Over one half of the United States has been in persistent drought at least one time during the last decade. USDA drought relief programs have allocated billions of dollars to assist farmers, ranchers, and rural communities cope with this natural disaster. Analysis of the rainfall records over the Great Plains by ARS scientists has revealed decade-long oscillations in annual precipitation. The characteristics of these variations were characterized for nine broad regions in the Great Plains. Results show that in the final decades of the 20th century, the majority of the Great Plains experienced the largest and longest (up to 20 years) increase in precipitation over the past 105 years. These findings have important implications for agriculture and rural communities because of their potential impact on the future productivity of agriculture in these regions and the potential for meeting the water requirements of these rural communities. Research was also done to determine the variations in monthly, seasonal, and annual precipitation where the variation between locations was found to be significant.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This work has been adopted by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey as one of their operational data products and is used be producers and regional planners to mitigate drought impacts in the region.
develop at least one design and analysis tool to economically maintain water resource management flood control infrastructure and stream corridor management systems.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists have developed a low cost means of reducing gully and stream bank erosion, one of the major causes of soil loss and sedimentation within our Nation’s streams. Traditional measures for controlling this type of erosion require costly stone or concrete structures. The large woody debris structures, being studied by ARS scientists, provide shelter for fish and insects, restore riparian habitats, and cost less than traditional methods. The structures consist of uprooted trees stacked in crossing layers and are anchored with steel cables to the streambed.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: The structures reduce sediment transport, triggering natural deposition to heal channels enlarged by years of erosion. They cost about $25 per foot of treated bank, or 20 to 50 percent of the cost of traditional stone bank stabilization projects in the region.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: New legislation directed toward the rehabilitation of aging dams and other hydraulic structures has forced the examination of problems associated with decommissioning aging hydraulic structures. Many of the Nation’s 11,000 flood-control structures built by NRCS are being adversely affected by sediment buildup, which reduces a reservoir’s ability to hold back floodwaters. There has been no established or accepted procedure for measuring streambed erodibility. A jet test device suitable for measuring streambed erodibility in the field or laboratory was developed and patented by ARS scientists. ARS has developed acoustic and geophysical technologies and procedures for characterizing the quality and quantity of the sediment impounded in such structures, based on tests conducted on flood control structures that are typical of western conditions.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This device may be used to evaluate stream channel stability for optimum placement of stream stabilization measures. NRCS now has access to use these technologies for assessing, rehabilitating, and decommissioning aging hydraulic structures without adversely affecting the environment and downstream aquatic ecosystems when the situation warrants evaluation of potential release of stored sediment with decommissioning of aging structures or when rehabilitating flood ravaged streams.
Performance Measure 5.2.2: Develop agricultural practices that maintain or enhance soil resources, thus ensuring sustainable food, feed, and fiber production while protecting environmental quality.
During FY 2005, ARS will
develop management practices and decision tools which make more efficient use of plant nutrients from fertilizers and other sources while protecting the environment.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Beltsville, Maryland, increased nitrogen use efficiency of corn by nearly 50 percent compared with conventional recommended practices when a field was subdivided into a mosaic of “response zones” based soil properties, landscape position, and remotely sensed data sets.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This technique holds promise for reducing nitrogen applications based on the synchronization of the spatial and temporal variability of nitrogen demand with site-specific nitrogen applications in order to minimize nitrogen runoff and leaching impacts on the environment without reducing crop production.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists from Saint Paul, Minnesota, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, found that de-nitrification of excess nitrate nitrogen was enhanced under pastures compared to under corn cropland. This enhanced de-nitrification is attributed to increased available carbon that serves as a food source for the bacteria.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Enhanced de-nitrification converts the potential pollutant nitrate to gaseous forms of nitrogen, thus reducing the environmental threat to ground and surface waters. These results provide an additional example of how well managed agriculture can help protect public resources.
develop management practices and decision tools which improve soil conditions and crop growth.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The Soil Management Assessment Framework was developed by ARS scientists at Ames, Iowa, to determine the sustainability of land management practices.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This tool can be used by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to determine the effectiveness of management practices supported by funds from USDA Conservation Programs. This tool will enable producers to select practices that will protect soil, water, and air resources.
Performance Measure 5.2.3: Develop approaches that mitigate the impact of poor air quality on crop production and provide scientific information and technology to maintain or enhance crop and animal production while controlling emissions that reduce air quality or destroy the ozone layer.
During FY 2005, ARS will
develop methods to reduce emissions of harmful gases from crop production systems and postharvest/quarantine treatments.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Experiments to measure atmospheric emissions of soil fumigants are extremely expensive, difficult, and require significant expenditures of resources. A microprocessor controlled automatic sampling system was developed by ARS scientists in Riverside, California, that reduces the cost of conducting field experiments and improves the measurement accuracy and provides representative samples.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: More data on emissions of gases from crop production systems will be acquired at a greatly reduced cost. Data from the new system will enable a better understanding of soil fumigant emissions. The sampling system is being further developed by a commercial firm under a USDA Small Business Innovative Research grant.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Parlier, California, in collaboration with the Golden State Bulb Growers, completed a 4-year, 2-location study to evaluate drip applied alternative chemicals for the replacement of methyl bromide for the production of calla lily rhizomes. Significant disease control was achieved when using iodomethane, 1,3-dichloropropene, chloropicrin, and metam sodium, individually or in various combinations compared to non-treated control. The test results were comparable to the standard methyl bromide treatment, although weed control may be lacking when these chemicals are applied by drip irrigation.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: As a result of this research, drip applied alternative chemicals are now used in some commercial production in lieu of methyl bromide. Acceptance of these methyl bromide alternatives by growers will increase if results continue to show comparable efficacy to methyl bromide over subsequent harvest years.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Parlier, California, in collaboration with the National Hay Association, developed a phosphine fumigation quarantine treatment for the control of Hessian fly in hay exported to Japan. The treatment involves the compression of the hay followed by the non-methyl bromide treatment, phosphine fumigation.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This phosphine fumigation quarantine treatment will help support the U.S. hay export market with Japan. Certification of the quarantine treatment by the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries, and Fisheries supports a $360 million market to the Pacific Rim countries.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Recent research by ARS scientists in Honolulu, Hawaii, showed that an irradiation dose of 150 Gy (the international system unit of radiation dose expressed in terms of absorbed energy per unit mass of tissue; the Gray (Gy) is the unit of absorbed dose and has replaced the rad - 1 Gray equals 100 rad.) is sufficient to provide quarantine security for sweet potato pests. An interim irradiation treatment of 400 Gy for sweet potatoes was published as a final rule in the Federal Register, awaiting confirmation of the lower dose. Formerly, sweet potato could only be exported from Hawaii to the mainland with a methyl bromide fumigation that resulted in economic losses and a shorter product shelf life.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Lowering the dose will reduce the costs of irradiation treatment and minimize any adverse effects on quality. In the past two years, sweet potato production has more than doubled due to the availability of the irradiation treatment. Approximately 2,500 tons of sweet potatoes are currently being exported annually using the irradiation treatment.
develop methods and control technologies which reduce particulate matter emissions from crop and animal production systems.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists from Manhattan, Kansas, formally delivered the Wind Erosion Prediction System (WEPS), a tool for forecasting wind erosion damage, to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for implementation across the Nation. WEPS can be used to simulate weather, soil, and crop conditions, and wind erosion on a daily basis.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: WEPS provides farmers and landowners with an advanced tool for formulating and assessing the effectiveness of specific wind erosion control practices. WEPS can be used for a given location to help guide the selection of optimum wind erosion abatement procedures, such as planting soil-stabilizing crop cover, establishing wind breaks and barriers, or reducing soil erodibility by appropriate tillage practices. Use of the tool is expected to result in decreased emissions of particulate matter that poses a risk to human health and the environment.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Animal rearing facilities emit significant amounts of ammonia and particulate matter. An ARS researcher from Fayetteville, Arkansas, designed a small chamber for scrubbing ammonia and particulate matter from air blowing through ventilation fans of poultry or swine production facilities.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This system effectively reduces gas and particulate emissions from animal production systems, can be attached to barn ventilation systems, and provides additional benefits to producers: the nitrogen captured from the ammonia emissions has the potential for use as a fertilizer for crops that appears to cost less than commercial fertilizer nitrogen. Further, the aluminum in the chamber solution has potential as a soil additive that can lower soluble phosphorus in soils, thus reducing phosphorus runoff and leaching. USDA-ARS is seeking a U.S. patent and an international patent for the system.
Performance Measure 5.2.4: Develop agricultural practices and decision support strategies that allow producers to take advantage of beneficial effects and mitigate adverse impacts of global change.
During FY 2005, ARS will
assess the potential risks and benefits to agricultural systems that may arise from global change, and develop agricultural management practices and decision support strategies that enable producers to take advantage of beneficial effects and mitigate adverse impacts.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS researchers at Beltsville, Maryland, have identified six proteins in Arabidopsis plants that are affected by increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. These findings indicate that, in addition to increasing photosynthesis, the rising level of atmospheric carbon dioxide will directly affect genes involved in plant stress defense mechanisms, and the regulation of plant development.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Results from these experiments provide a basis for predicting plant responses to future increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Identification of plant compounds altered by increased carbon dioxide also provides insights into areas of focus for plant breeders seeking to deal with increased plant resistance to herbicides that are expected to occur with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.
identify processes that control the rate at which agricultural systems release and absorb greenhouse gases, and develop agricultural management practices that contribute to reductions in the Nation’s net greenhouse gas emissions.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS has developed a program known as GRACEnet (Greenhouse gas Reductions through Agricultural Carbon Enhancements network) involving laboratories in every major agricultural region of the country. Scientists in the project are measuring changes in soil carbon and emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from contrasting farming systems. At each site, one system is farmed using standard practices for the region, while a second system is managed with practices designed to maximize carbon storage, and a third uses methods intended to minimize total greenhouse gas emissions.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: The information gained from GRACEnet will be used to develop regionally applicable guidelines for Best Management Practices (BMPs) to help increase storage of carbon in soils, and thus help decrease carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from agricultural systems.
Performance Measure 5.2.5: Develop management practices, treatment technologies, and decision tools for effective use of animal manure and selected industrial and municipal byproducts to improve soil properties and enhance crop production while protecting the environment.
During FY 2005, ARS will
develop management practices and treatment technologies which reduce gaseous and particulate matter emissions from animal production operations.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists from Fayetteville, Arkansas, developed a liquid alum spray system that reduces ammonia in high rise laying hen houses below levels that threaten bird or worker health. Use of the system improves egg production and feed conversion.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: The system provides egg producers with a cost-effective method to improve egg production while making a safer work place environment.
develop management practices and technologies which control pathogenic microorganisms in manure that may threaten human health.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Florence, South Carolina, have developed a system of swine wastewater treatment technologies that improves liquid/solid separation, reduces ammonia and odor emissions, and kills pathogens. The system has been classified as environmentally superior in independent testing under the North Carolina Attorney General – Smithfield Foods Consent Agreement.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This system of treatment technologies will provide producers with an environmentally friendly alternative to anaerobic lagoons.
Performance Measure 5.2.6: Develop agricultural and decision support systems that assist in increasing the efficiency of agricultural enterprises and achieve economic and environmental sustainability.
During FY 2005, ARS will develop new production practices and decision support tools that increase profitability and improve environmental quality.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: Farmers need assurance that using new production practices will not put them at risk of financial loss. The ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota, cooperating with the Brookings, South Dakota, North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory, have addressed the problem. They have analyzed long-term crop rotation and government programs and crop insurance. Their research showed corn rotations including soybean, spring wheat, or alfalfa, instead of continuous corn production, were valuable risk management tools when government program payments and crop insurance are not available. However, when growers chose to use both government programs and crop insurance, the relative benefits of crop diversification in reducing risk were decreased.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: This research is helping assure Northern Corn Belt farmers who want to adopt more sustainable production practices that diverse crop rotations can reduce economic risks and complement other risk management tools including government programs and crop insurance. This research can also help policy-makers find creative ways to design programs that provide economic incentives for producers to adopt conservation practices.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: Due to safety and health concerns, new production practices are needed for the 560,000 acres of Pacific Northwest perennial grass seed crops that have been burned after harvest. The ARS Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit has completed a 10-year experiment in Western Oregon that has demonstrated perennial grass seed crops can be economically produced without burning, by using no-till seeding in combination with chopping back all of the straw onto fields after harvest. Compared to conventional tillage establishment with straw removed by baling, the ARS conservation system reduces soil erosion 40 to 77 percent and nitrate leaching 50 percent. Establishment costs $27 to $162 per acre, can increase seed yields, allow earlier spring planting times, and increase recreation time for farmers.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: Oregon and Washington growers are experimenting with how to best use these new practices at the farm scale on 15,000 acres. NRCS has adopted no-till seeding and full straw management as practices to help farmers qualify for USDA Farm Bill conservation program payments. This research is also helping the grass seed industry demonstrate how they can comply with the provisions of the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Farmers using these practices are reporting higher yields, increased profits, and more flexibility in their schedules that can be used for non-farming related activities.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: Outdoor confinement areas on small dairies are “hot spots” for concentrating nutrients from manure. Most uncollected manure accumulates in exercise lots and feeding areas, leading to excessive nutrient levels in the soil. A study of fifty-four dairies across Wisconsin was conducted by the U.S. Dairy Forage Center in Madison to find what kinds of dairies could benefit most by developing conservation management plants. The research showed that less manure is collected from farms with stanchions than free stall housing. Also, small to medium sized herd farms collected less manure than large herd dairies. There were differences in the amounts of manure collected in different regions of the State, with more manure collected in the hilly Southwest region, and less collected in the undulating South Central and flat Northeast regions in Wisconsin.
IMPACT/OUTCOME: With this research, manure management plans can be developed for different kinds of dairies based on knowing which kinds of dairies may have greater relative amounts of manure needing removal. Added education efforts could be directed towards small to medium sized dairy herds to specifically help show those operations how to manage manure in outside confinement areas to reduce the risk of impairing surface and ground water quality.