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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

2007 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Overall Project Goal: Develop long-term sustainable soil and crop management practices for the Central Great Plains Region (CGPR) and identify technologies that maximize the use of the region's soil and water resources with minimal negative environmental impact. 1. Develop sustainable soil, nutrient, weed control and water conservation technologies for dryland cropping systems of the CGPR that improve water and nutrient use efficiency and maintain/improve desirable soil physical and chemical properties (sequester C and improve soil quality). 2. Quantify microbial plant associations and their effects on plant productivity in no-till dryland cropping systems. 3. Develop best management practices for remediation/restoration of degraded soils in the CGPR. 4. Develop soil and crop management practices to include bio-fuel specialty crops into alternative dryland cropping systems for the Central Great Plains region. Additional Information: Develop cooperative activities with ARS and university partners as needed.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Field, laboratory and greenhouse experiments will be conducted using appropriate experimental designs (Latin square, split plot, etc.) to determine long-term sustainable minimum/no-till dryland crop rotations for the region. These experiments include studies to evaluate alternative crop sequencing, fertility needs, and cultural practices to reduce dependence on pesticides and other ag chemicals. The effect of rotation and cultural management on weeds, and weed-crop interactions; and on soil chemical and physical characteristics and nutrient cycling will be quantified. Crop and soil simulation models will be calibrated/evaluated for prediction accuracy of yield and soil transformations using 98 years of climate and crop rotation data to extrapolate research results at CGPRS to other regions. Economic risk assessment of intensive dryland rotations will be calculated to determine economic feasibility.

3.Progress Report
Enterprise budgets for 7 rotations containing wheat, corn and millet (some with fallow) are developed from data collected from some of the long-term dryland rotation experiments. In this effort the 10-year average monthly high price for the three commodity crops was combined with 10 year average yields in the 7 rotations to estimate gross dollar value. The cost of production for each rotation crop was calculated. From the gross dollar value and cost of production the net returns to land, labor and capital were calculated. This report (in spreadsheet form) has been presented as a poster at regional producer meetings. The first draft of the manuscript is being written. The soil remediation experiment is now in its first crop sequence and the other experiments are still in the second year of data collection of this 5-year plan.

Title: Measurements of soil quality enhancements in long-term no-till rotations Description of problem: New intensive no-till rotations provide greater economic returns for dryland farmers than the old wheat-fallow system which is neither environmentally or economically sustainable. However, evidence of how these rotations affect the long-term sustainability of the soil resource has not been completely documented. Accomplishment: In this research we document that in our long-term rotation experiments we have measured significant improvement in soil quality after 14 years of no-till intensive dryland rotation management. Soil quality changes are reflected by increases in measurements of soil C, soil N, soil organic matter, and in aggregate stability. These increases in soil quality measurements are correlated with greater rotation intensity and with less fallow frequency.

Title: Skip-row corn, sorghum and sunflower as a drought mitigation strategy for dryland rotation management. Description of problem: The Central Great Plains Region (CGPR) is a net importer of feed-grains (corn, sorghum). This provides an incentive to develop stable dryland feed-grain yields. The lack of adequate moisture during silking/pollen shed is a major limitation to dryland feed-grain production in the region. In this study, we evaluate the skip-row strategy to circumvent the water limitation during silking/pollen shed for corn and sorghum. The idea behind “skip-row” is: water stored in the soil of the “skipped-row area” serves as a water reserve for drought periods later in the season. Because of the distance between the skip-row center and the planted row of corn/sorghum or sunflower, the soil water in the skip-row is not positionally as available to the young plants until they are at the reproductive stage of development (silking/pollen shed). Accomplishment: In our 8-site years of skip-row research we have measured an average increase of 6 bushels with skip-row corn over conventional corn and have measured similar responses with grain sorghum. Corn, grain sorghum, and sunflower are able to extract water from the 0-150 cm soil profile, even at distances of 115 cm away from the planted crop row (the middle of the skip in a "plant 2 - skip 2" planting configuration). Stomatal conductance values indicate that this inter-row soil water availability leads to lower water stress during the critical flowering and grain-filling growth stages in "plant 1-skip 1" and "plant 2-skip 2" configurations, which should result in higher yields compared with a conventional configuration.

Title: Quick methods for quality analysis of plant tissue (forage) and soil samples using infrared spectroscopy. Description of problem: Infrared spectroscopy techniques (NIR and FT-IR) have recently been used as a non-destructive method for the analysis of soil properties. However, the accuracy and reproducibility of this rapid, inexpensive infrared technology is not fully quantified and/or documented. Accomplishment: We found that infrared light can be used to quickly analyze nutritional properties of forages. This is relevant because forage quality affects the quality and productivity of the beef used by the consumer. Also this method is so much quicker then the wet chemistry methods that are in routine use for forage quality analysis.

Title: Quanitification of soil physical quality as influenced by intensive no-till cropping. Description of problem: The quantification of how soil physical properties change under intensive no-till management may partially explain the yield enhancement observed with some of these no-till rotations. However much of the below ground physical properties of these soils has not been clearly defined. Accomplishement: In field research with long-term alternative crop rotations we found that increasing permanent vegetation and limiting wheel traffic improved the soil physical condition (reduced deep compaction) and resulted in greater crop yields. These changes took 10 to 15 years to develop. The research documents that wheel traffic and compaction issues are vital elements in designing long-term, sustainable, cropping systems.

5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations
Significant activities that support special target populations: Nearly all of our research is designed and focused to help small farmers in the four state area known as the Central Great Plains region (CGPR). Eighty-five to ninety-five percent of all the producers we interact with are small farmers as identified by the USDA criteria of under $250,000 annual gross receipts. Nearly all of the above accomplishments support the special target population known as small farmers. Our research is directed specifically to their needs. A close relationship exists between the research conducted by the ARS station at Akron and the needs of the customers/farmers who are the recipients of the results of that research. The unit hosted two-three summer field days that boast as many as 350 in (total) attendance. (170-226 annual June spring field day, 40-80 Other Misc. field days). Nearly 80% of the attendees were producers. Other attendees were Ag consultants, Agri-business, NRCS and cooperative extension. We sponsored a winter tech-transfer meeting that had 370 in attendance from the four state Region (~90% in attendance are producers). In addition the unit scientists were invited to present at several other regional field days in the 4 state Region. This past year unit scientists participated in over 55 technology transfer events.

This past December, 2006 we presented a summary of a our Alternative Crop Rotation Experiment to a group of farmers in Hill City, Kansas (sponsored by the Kansas Black Farmers Association). Feedback from the meeting organizers indicated that this presentation was well received and it is our hope this interaction will evolve into a long lasting relationship of value to the dryland producers in around the Hill City/Nicodemus community.

6.Technology Transfer

Number of web sites managed1
Number of non-peer reviewed presentations and proceedings60
Number of newspaper articles and other presentations for non-science audiences2

Review Publications
Benjamin, J.G., Mikha, M.M., Nielsen, D.C., Vigil, M.F., Calderon, F.J., Henry, W.B. 2007. Cropping Intensity Effects on Physical Properties of a No-till Silt Loam Soil. Soil Science Society of America Journal 71:1160-1165.

Henry, W.B., Shaner, D.L., West, M.S. 2007. Shikimate accumulation in sunflower, wheat, and proso millet after glyphosate application. Weed Science 55:1-5.

Felter, D.G., Lyon, D.J., Nielsen, D.C., Baltensperger, D.D., Arkebauer, T.J. 2006. Evaluating crops for a flexible summer fallow cropping system. Agronomy Journal 98:1510-1517.

Lyon, D.J., Nielsen, D.C., Felter, D.G., Burgener, P.A. 2007. Choice of Summer Fallow Replacement Crops Impacts Subsequent Winter Wheat. Agronomy Journal 99:578-584.

Gaines, T., Preston, C., Byrne, P., Henry, W.B., Westra, P. 2007. Adventitious presence of herbicide resistant wheat in certified and farm-saved seed lots. Crop Science. 47:749-754.

Shaner, D.L., Henry, W.B. 2007. Field History and Dissipation of Atrazine and Metolachlor in Colorado. Journal of Environmental Quality. Volume 36:pp 128-134

Acosta Martinez, V., Mikha, M.M., Vigil, M.F. 2007. Microbial communities and enzyme activities in soils under alternative crop rotations compared to wheat-fallow for the Central Great Plains. Applied Soil Ecology. 37:41-52.

Last Modified: 11/25/2015
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