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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: INTEGRATED AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS FOR THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS
2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
Objective 1: Determine the environmental and economic impacts of cover crop and cover crop mixtures in semiarid cropping systems.

Objective 2: Develop dynamic cropping systems to help meet bio-energy production needs and increase economic returns while enhancing natural resource quality.

Objective 3: Develop multiple enterprise systems that integrate crops and livestock to economically optimize the quality and quantity of agricultural products while maintaining or enhancing soil quality indicators.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
Multiple methodologies will be used depending on the specific objectives because of the complexity of this integrated agricultural systems research project. Objective 1 will use a modified crop matrix where different cover crops are seeded into a common residue to evaluate the above- and below-ground impact of cover crops on subsequent crops. Objective 2 will use economic analysis, and modeling techniques to develop economically feasible management strategies for biofuels and an Eddy Covariance System to measure CO2 flux as a surrogate for environmental impact of biomass crops. Integration of crops and livestock, Objective 3, will compare the performance of livestock when grazing annual crops in the fall to livestock performance when grazing perennial grasses in the fall. In the first 3 objectives, common data collected will include soil properties, biomass accumulation and soil water use. In addition, data on the impact of bio-char will be collected in Objective 2 and livestock production data will be collected in Objective 3. Economic analysis will be conducted as appropriate.


3.Progress Report:
The scientist responsible for Sub-objective 2.3 ‘Determine how conversion from traditional annual crop to perennial bio-fuel crops influences ecosystem carbon flux’ resigned from ARS. Responsibilities for this sub-objective were transferred to another scientist and meeting milestones and goals remain on track.

A location scientist was invited to present results from the research at a special symposium on Integrating Livestock Into Cropping Systems: Ecosystem Responses From Long-Term Studies at the 2012 ASA-CSSA-SSSA international meetings in Cincinnati Ohio. A paper resulting from a previous invitation was published Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. A paper about the ‘Cover Crop Chart’, a cover crop outreach tool, was published in Journal of Extension (Online).

Over the life of the project, the scientific team determined that:.
1)integrated crop-livestock systems may be able to withstand significant changes in near-surface soil physical properties known to affect water infiltration, and thus may be adapted to a more vigorous hydrological cycle from the standpoint of water capture and storage;.
2)the soil quality of an integrated winter grazing system equaled that of the perennial grass system on these northern Great Plains soils. This new information will benefit farmers in the northern Great Plains by assuring them crop residue can be grazed without a negative impact on soil quality;.
3)identified issues with large land area, large animal numbers, large labor needs and a lack of adequate statistical analysis as major issues slowing research into integrated crop/livestock systems. A list of practical considerations for developing an integrated crop/livestock research program which included teamwork, compromise, moving outside comfort zones, new and improved statistical techniques and complementation of animal and cropping system was put forward;.
4)developed a method to determine the prices and amounts of biomass that could be profitably supplied to a local biorefinery;.
5)documented the potential of switchgrass to serve as a carbon-negative bioenergy crop within the central and northern Great Plains;.
6)published a book documenting recent research accomplishments addressing strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The book, entitled Managing Agricultural Greenhouse Gases: Coordinated Agricultural Research through GRACEnet to Address our Changing Climate, includes regional syntheses of soil organic carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) dynamics for broad portfolio of agricultural land uses, as well as additional chapters central to GRACEnet activities (e.g., modeling, method development, economic outcomes of GHG mitigation options, adaptation research, and international collaboration); .
6)demonstrated that average net returns could be increased by as much as $37 per acre by switching from moldboard plow tillage to a minimum tillage fall residue management system; and.
7)reported on drivers of integrated agricultural systems in a dedicated issue of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.

The new NP216 project plan received a moderate revision score and was certified by OSQR on July 29, 2013.


4.Accomplishments
1. Cover crop decision aid updated. Interest in cover crops by farmers has increased the need for information regarding the suitability of crops for addressing different production and natural resource goals on the northern Great Plains. To help address this need, ARS scientists at Mandan, ND developed and published an updated version (v. 1.3) of the decision aid called the Cover Crop Chart (CCC) based on more than 30 years of ARS research. Visually analogous to the periodic table, the CCC includes updated information on 46 crop species and their management within a free downloadable Portable Document Format (PDF) file. The CCC serves as a useful educational resource for agriculturalists learning about cover crops for the first time and has been downloaded more than 1700 times since its inception.

2. Diversity in agricultural systems. Greater demands for agriculture to provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel place increased pressure on farmers to intensify their production practices without compromising environmental quality. To improve the resilience of agricultural systems, ARS scientists at Mandan, ND examined the role of biodiversity in the management of grasslands and integrated crop-livestock-forage systems. Field plot and on-farm research demonstrated that the use of a multi-scale approach with different forages and combinations of forage species distributed across a farm according to site suitability and the goals of the producer resulted in greater productivity with fewer inputs. The scientists also developed the concept of dynamic cropping systems, which incorporates a long-term strategy of annual crop sequencing that optimizes crop and soil use options to attain production, economic, and resource conservation goals by using sound ecological management principles. Integrating dynamic cropping systems with livestock production increases the complexity of management but also creates synergies among the system components that improve resilience and sustainability.


Review Publications
Sanderson, M.A., Archer, D.W., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L., Liebig, M.A., Nichols, K.A., Schmer, M.R., Tanaka, D.L., Aguilar, J.P. 2013. Diversification and ecosystem services for conservation agriculture: Outcomes from pastures and integrated crop-livestock systems. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 28(2):129-144.

Liebig, M.A., Johnson, H.A., Archer, D.W., Hendrickson, J.R., Nichols, K.A., Schmer, M.R., Tanaka, D.L. 2013. Cover Crop Chart: An intuitive educational resource for extension professionals. Journal of Extension. 51(3):1-5.

Last Modified: 12/21/2014
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