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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

2009 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
Decision support software (iFEAT) was developed in collaboration with the USDA-Agricultural Systems Research Unit in Fort Collins to meet the economic objectives outlined in the units project plan for developing an economic analysis of the alternative crop rotation experiment. The spreadsheet has been presented at several producer meetings and has had some adoption by farmers, rural bankers, and agricultural business leaders in the Central Great Plains Region (CGPR). Much of the skip-row research is complete with two manuscripts published (one refereed, one proceedings). Two more are being developed. The millet-wheat crop sequence experiments are nearly complete. The on-farm CO2 flux experiments (after 12 years of no-till management) are complete and are being written up as a refereed manuscript. The pre-plant water content corn yield research is complete and in press as a refereed manuscript. A summary manuscript based on ACR data and other rotation data summarizes our current knowledge regarding precipitation storage efficiency during no-till and conventional till summer fallow. This manuscript is in review and will soon be submitted for refereed publication. The economic optimum N rate work with dryland corn and wheat is nearly complete. The data was presented at two international meetings and is being written up into refereed manuscript form. The wheat yield loss from soil compaction research is nearly complete with one manuscript in press. The quick methods using FTIR/NIR spectroscopy for determining the presence of mycorrhizal infection and for evaluating fatty acids in the soil-root environment is still in progress, but has produced two published refereed manuscripts.

1. New Evidence for Reduced Greenhouse Gass Emissions: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado have found reduced greenhouse gas emissions with dryland no-till management in the semi-arid Central Great Plains region. Researchers at Akron found that CO2 flux was 70% greater with one-shallow tillage pass (3 inches deep with V-blade sweeps) compared to adjacent land managed with no-till. After the land was tilled again, one year later, the subsequent CO2 flux difference was less, but still 40% greater than NT. These are some of the first CO2 flux measurements made under semi-arid dryland conditions and are important measurements needed for estimating the effects of no-till and conventional till management on the 26,000,000 acres of dryland in the CGPR.

2. New Quantification of Precipitation Storage Efficiency (PSE) during Fallow in Wheat-Fallow Systems: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado have documented how improved stubble and no-till management during the 14-month summer fallow period increases soil water storage. With this effort they developed a predictive relationship that describes 89% of the variability in year-to-year PSE as a function of tillage system, percentage of fallow precipitation events with amounts between 5 and 15 mm, and percentage of fallow precipitation events with amounts greater than 25 mm. This relationship can be used to accurately estimate PSE and fallow period water storage in the Central Great Plains region (CGPR). This new decision support tool for farmers, NRCS, and extension professionals is important because precipitation is the primary driver for predicting wheat yields in the CGPR.

3. Field Validation of Existing Simulating Models: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado in collaboration with ARS colleagues in Fort Collins have documented and validated the usefulness of DSSAT v4.0 and RZWQM2 models for accurately simulating field measured yields of wheat, corn, and proso millet in six dryland cropping systems at Akron, Colorado (conventional tilled winter wheat-fallow, no-till wheat-fallow, no-till wheat-corn-fallow, no-till wheat-corn-proso millet, no-till wheat-proso millet-fallow, and no-till wheat-corn-proso millet-fallow). Average long-term yields of the three crops in different rotations were simulated well. The simulation results confirm the potential for using RZWQM to simulate dryland crop rotation yields under varying weather and soil conditions, and to provide results that will aid in the creation of decision support tools for dryland crop rotation selection.

4. New Documentation of Skip-Row Planting Success and Failures: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado in collaboration with colleagues with the University of Nebraska have documented increased yields for skip-row (or wide row) plantings of dryland corn and sorghum. The practice is most useful in the drier portions of the CGPR. Their findings indicate that as conventional yields drop below 60 bushels per acre, the value of skip-row planting for dryland cropping systems increases providing enhanced grain yields. Their findings indicate that as conventional yields increase above 60 bushels to about 90 bushels, skip-row planting neither increases or decreases dryland grain yields. Dryland corn and sorghum yields west of the Colorado border with Kansas tend to average below 60 bushel indicating that millions of dryland acres would benefit from the practice. With sunflower, skip row planting has neither shown a consistent advantage or disadvantage. The one exception is with seed size. Skip-row planted sunflowers produce larger seeds; which is a desirable characteristic for confection sunflowers (roasted and salted sunflower seeds).

5. Development of Predictive Relationships of Wheat Yeild Loss due to Soil Compaction: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado have developed a new predictive mathematical relationship for winter-wheat-yield loss from soil compaction. The equations have particular application for the soils in the CGPR. The equations are published in Land Degradation and Desertification: Assessment, Mitigation and Remediation (in press). The paper reports a method developed under the category of “Evaluating soil physical condition on plant development and crop yield” that gives a logical, quantitative way to assess soil degradation caused by soil compaction from agricultural machinery. It links water stress day (WSD) evaluation of soil physical condition with winter wheat yield and gives a method to estimate the amount of soil compaction, with the associated change in WSD, caused by machinery of different tire pressure and weights.

6. Improvements in Soil Quality with Intensive Crop Rotation: ARS Scientists at Akron, Colorado documented improvements in soil resource quality with no-till-intensive cropping systems. They found that Intensive-no-till-alternative-cropping systems maintain or improve soil quality by maintaining and/or increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) content above what is measured in traditional wheat fallow. Soils managed for 14 years with no-till-continuous cropping had significantly greater soil organic carbon than soils managed with traditional tilled wheat fallow. An analysis of their data sets supports the use of no-till and reduced fallow as means for maintaining or improving the quality of the soil resource in the CGPR.

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 customer/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 days, 40-80 other miscellaneous field days). Nearly 80% of the attendees are producers. Other attendees are 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 (almost 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 29 technology transfer events.

This past December, 2008, we presented a summary of our Alternative Crop Rotation Experiments 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 and around the Hill City/Nicodemus community.

6.Technology Transfer

Number of New CRADAS1
Number of Web Sites Managed1
Number of Other Technology Transfer29

Review Publications
Nielsen, D.C., Vigil, M.F., Benjamin, J.G. 2008. The Variable Response of Dryland Corn Yield to Soil Water Content. Agricultural Water Management 96:330-336.

Calderon, F.J., Acosta Martinez, V., Douds, D.D., Reeves III, J.B., Vigil, M.F. 2009. Mid-Infrared and Near Infrared Spectral Properties of Mycorrhizal and Non-Mycorrhizal Root Cultures. Journal of Applied Spectroscopy. 63(5)494-500.

Calderon, F.J., Reeves III, J.B., Vigil, M.F., Poss, D.J. 2009. Mid-Infrared and Near Infrared Calibrations for Nutritional Parameters of Triticale (Triticosecale) and Pea (Pisum sativum). Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 57:5136-5142. doi:10.1021/jf803936x.

Li, L., Nielsen, D.C., Yu, Q., Ma, L., Ahuja, L.R. 2008. Evaluating the Crop Water Stress Index and its Correlation with Latent Heat and CO2 Fluxes Over Winter Wheat and Maize in the North China Plain. Agricultural Water Management. 97:1146-1155. doi:10.1016/j.agwat.2008.09.015.

Anapalli, S.S., Nielsen, D.C., Lyon, D.J., Ma, L., Felter, D.G., Baltensperger, D.D., Hoogenboom, G., Ahuja, L.R. 2009. Modeling Responses of Dryland Spring Triticale, Proso Millet and Foxtail Millet to Initial Soil Water in the High Plains. Field Crops Research 113:48-63.

Pikul Jr, J.L., Johnson, J.M., Schumacher, T., Vigil, M.F., Riedell, W.E. 2008. Change in Surface Soil Carbon Under Rotated Corn in Eastern South Dakota. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 72:1738-1744.

Lyon, D.J., Pavlista, A.D., Hergert, G.W., Klein, R.N., Shapiro, C.A., Knezevic, S., Mason, S.C., Nelson, L.A., Baltensperger, D.D., Elmore, R.W., Vigil, M.F., Schlegel, A.J., Olson, B.L., Aiken, R.M. 2009. Skip-row Planting Patterns Stabilize Corn Grain Yields in the Central Great Plains. Crop Management. doi:10.1094/CM-2009-0224-02-RS.

Liebig, M.A., Mikha, M.M., Potter, K.N. 2009. Management of Dryland Cropping Systems in the U.S. Great Plains: Effects on Soil Organic Carbon. Soil Science Society of America Special Publication Book Chapter. P. 97-113. In: R. Lal and R.F. Follett (Eds.) Soil carbon sequestration and the greenhouse effect, 2nd Ed. SSSA Spec. Publ. 57. ASA-CSSA-SSSA, Madison, WI.

Blanco-Cangui, H., Mikha, M.M., Benjamin, J.G., Stone, L.R., Schlegel, A.J., Lyon, D.J., Vigil, M.F., Stahlman, P.W. 2009. Regional Study of No-Till Impacts on Near-Surface Aggregate Properties that Influence Soil Erodibility. Soil Science Society of America Journal 73:1361-1368.

Last Modified: 11/26/2015
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