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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DRYLAND CROPPING SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT FOR THE CENTRAL GREAT PLAINS
2008 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
Changes in soil quality in the alternative crop rotation (ACR) experiments were summarized and that data is contained in a draft manuscript that will soon be ready for submission to a refereed Journal. The enterprise budgets analysis of the ACR experiment is being updated to reflect the recent wide spread changes in ag-economics for these rotations. 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. A proceedings paper was published with the Soil Science Congress in Argentina. The first draft of the refereed Journal manuscript is still 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.

National program #202: Soil Resource Management. Problem area 5: Adoption and implementation of soil and water conservation practices. Focus area 2: Decision tools to assess benefits and enhance adoption of conservation practices and systems. Focus area 1: Improved knowledge and technologies to expand the development and use of new conservation systems and Problem area 3: Soil carbon measurement dynamics and management. Focus area 1: measurement tools for soil carbon.


4.Accomplishments
1. Prediction of dryland corn yields using pre-plant soil water and precipitation received during the critical period. Dryland corn yields are highly correlated to precipitation received during silking and pollination. Probability distributions can be developed to predict dryland corn yield response to rain received during that period. However, farmers would like to have a “decision tool” to help them estimate the probability for success (or potential for success) at planting time for dryland corn. The hope would be to use preplant soil water contents combined with probability of rainfall during the season. The idea is that if the profile is full, a greater probability of success should be expected. In this analysis, 14 years of conventional (non-skip-row) dryland corn data combined with soil water at planting in the soil profile was used to develop predictive relationships for dryland corn. Simple linear regression combined with probability distributions of precipitation for regional weather stations was used to make the final estimations of dryland corn to both preplant soil water and precipitation received during the critical period. These relationships provide farmers in the CGPR an estimate of the probability of success for dryland corn in the region. The relationships document that planting dryland corn using typical dryland methods is a high-risk venture when compared to other dryland crops like winter wheat or proso-millet. National program #202: Soil Resource Management. Problem area 5: Adoption and implementation of soil and water conservation practices. Focus area 2: Decision tools to assess benefits and enhance adoption of conservation practices and systems. Focus area 1: Improved knowledge and technologies to expand the development and use of new conservation systems.

2. Skip-row corn, sorghum and sunflower as a drought mitigation strategy for dryland rotation management. 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). In our 16-site years of skip-row research we have found that if conventional yields are 62 bushels or less that the skip-row method will enhance overall grain yield from a minimum increase to 20% to as much as 200% for corn and sorghum. When conventional yields are greater than 62 bushels, increases in yield are not expected. This is important because the average dryland corn yields in eastern Colorado and much of the Central Great Plains region (CGPR) are averaging less than 60 bushels. The skip-row practice mitigates the effects of drought and may ultimately reduce federal insurance payments to farmers. National program #202 Soil Resource Management. Problem area 5: Adoption and implementation of soil and water conservation practices. Focus area 1: Improved knowledge and technologies to expand the development and use of new conservation systems.

3. Quick methods for quality analysis of plant tissue (forage) and soil samples using infrared spectroscopy. 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. We found that infrared light can be used to quickly analyze soil samples for select fatty acids that are correlated to specific microbial populations. This is relevant because this is the initiation of new methods for analyzing and characterizing soils for ecological properties. The key idea here is these methods are quicker then other lab methods that are used in routinely determining soil microbial makeup. National program #202 Soil Resource Management. Problem area 1: Understanding and managing soil biology and rhizosphere ecology. Focus area 1: Improved understanding of soil biology and rhizosphere ecology. Problem area 3: Soil carbon measurement dynamics and management. Focus area 1: measurement tools for soil carbon. Focus area 1: Improved knowledge and technologies to expand the development and use of new conservation systems.

4. Quanitification of soil physical quality as influenced by intensive no-till cropping. 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 have not been clearly defined. 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. National program #202 Soil Resource Management. Problem area 2: Soil management to improve soil structure and hydraulic properties. Problem area 5: Adoption and implementation of soil and water conservation practices. Focus area 1: Improved knowledge and technologies to expand the development and use of new conservation 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. (130-170 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, 2007, 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 has evolved into an annual event of value to the dryland producers in around the Hill City/Nicodemus community. We are scheduled to present again this coming December of 2008.


6.Technology Transfer

Number of Web Sites Managed1
Number of Non-Peer Reviewed Presentations and Proceedings7
Number of Newspaper Articles and Other Presentations for Non-Science Audiences1
Number of Other Technology Transfer27

Review Publications
Calderon, F.J., Reeves III, J.B., Foster, J.G., Clapham, W.M., Fedders, J.M., Vigil, M.F., Henry, W.B. 2007. Comparison of Diffuse Reflectance Fourier Transform Mid-Infrared and Near-Infrared Spectroscopy with Grating-Based Near-Infrared for the Determination of Fatty Acids in Forages. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 55:8302-8309.

Henry, W.B., Nielsen, D.C., Vigil, M.F., Calderon, F.J., West, M.S. 2008. Proso Millet Yield and Residue Mass following Direct Harvest with a Stripper-Header. Agronomy Journal 100:580-584.

Cabrera, M., Molina, J.A., Vigil, M.F. 2008. Modeling of the N Cycle. Book Chapter In Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems. 18:695-730. American Society of Agronomy, Inc. Madison, WI.

Anapalli, S.S., Ahuja, L.R., Nielsen, D.C., Trout, T.J., Ma, L. 2008. Use of Crop Simulation Models to Evaluate Limited Irrigation Management Options for Corn in Semi-Arid Environment. Water Resources Research. Water Resources Research, 44,W00E02, doi10.1029/2007WR006181.

Meisinger, J.J., Calderon, F.J., Jenkinson, D.S. 2008. Soil Nitrogen Budgets. American Society of Agronomy Monograph Series. 13:505-562.

Francis, D.D., Vigil, M.F., Moiser, A.R. 2008. Gaseous losses of nitrogen other than through denitrification. In: J.S. Schepers and W.R. Raun, editors. Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems. Agronomy Monograph 49. Madison, WI: American Society of Agronomy. p. 255-279.

Plante, A.F., Magrini-Bair, K., Vigil, M.F., Eldor, P. 2008. Pyrolysis-Molecular Beam Mass Spectrometry to Characterize Soil Organic Matter Composition in Chemically Isolated Fractions from Differing Land Uses. Biogeochemistry. DOI 10.1007/s10533-008-9218-3.

Benjamin, J.G., Mikha, M.M., Vigil, M.F. 2008. Organic Carbon Effects on Soil Physical and Hydraulic Properties in a Semi-arid Climate. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 72:1357-1362. doi:10.2136/sssaj2007.0389.

Last Modified: 10/21/2014
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