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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Development of Sustainable Production Systems and Water Management Technology for the Mid South

Location: Crop Production Systems Research Unit

2009 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Design improved irrigation application technologies and scheduling techniques using automated technology to detect crop water status and provide site-specific application guidelines. Develop cropping systems, conservation management practices and crop rotations with improved water management and enhanced economic and environmental sustainability.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Improved irrigation scheduling and application technologies and water management tools will be developed and delivered to producers to improve water use and crop yield and quality. The research will develop production systems and identify management practices that improve soil quality and increase profitability by incorporating conservation production practices, alternative crops and crop rotations. Profitability of management practices and production systems will be tested with economic analysis. Fundamental principles of successful production systems will be delineated, and examined for impacts on risks, competitiveness and environmental impacts.

3.Progress Report
Progress has been made on development of irrigation tools for producers. Collaborations have been established with University, industry, and NRCS colleagues to assist in the development and delivery of the irrigation tools and training. Currently available web-based and stand-alone irrigation scheduling tools and methods have been reviewed, noting useful items to include and pitfalls to avoid. Information from public data bases has been collected to incorporate into the tools for ease of selection of fields and soils. A comparison of various irrigation scheduling methods showed that for the humid environment of the Delta, similar water use and crop yields were observed irrespective of specific irrigation method used. It was noted, however, that rainfall information was needed on an individual field scale to accurately account for water use. The variable-rate center pivot irrigation system was tested for proper function and uniformity, and management zones were delineated based on soil characteristics. A wireless network of automated soil-moisture sensors was installed and tested for range and capability.

Development of cropping systems and conservation management practices with improved water management and enhanced economic and environmental sustainability has progressed by examining effects of tillage, cover crops, planting density, and irrigation on cotton, soybean and corn yields. Changes in soil organic matter with cover crops and tillage have been determined. A cooperative agreement with a University scientist has been established to thermodynamically determine the energy content of cover crop and crop residue. Effects of conservation management practices on crop quality has been determined for soybean oil content and cotton fiber properties, and the impact of ginning on cotton quality.

The Integrated Agricultural workgroup met with producers to examine production systems in Orono, ME, and Madison, WI. In collaboration with colleagues in Mandan, ND, a dynamic model was developed to explore quantitative and qualitative aspects of production systems, and determine relative sustainability based on indices of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Preliminary results indicate the potential economic, environmental, and societal benefits from integrated production systems. The group presented the impact of drivers on developing unique characteristics of production systems, and the potential of agriculture to contribute ecosystem services beyond traditional agricultural products.

1. Determination of Factors Impacting the Economic & Environmental Sustainability of Agriculture. In the past, American agriculture was focused solely on its ability to produce sufficient food, fuel and fiber to meet local, national and global demands. While productivity will continue to be a major factor in food production systems, increased societal demands for environmentally sound management, the need for rural community viability, and a rapidly changing global marketplace have resulted in challenges for the current agricultural system. Researchers at Stoneville, MS, Auburn, AL, Orono, ME, and Mandan, ND, met with producers to examine agricultural production systems common to the southeast U.S. to identifying key principles, components, and drivers that influence the development of production systems. The researchers found that internal and external social, political, and environmental drivers played a central role in forming the characteristics of individual production systems. Economic factors were often overriding factors that limited management choices. The research indicates development of new production systems around the concepts of dynamic and integrated agricultural systems expands the income stability and risk reduction and provides producers with increased flexibility. This flexibility will impact agricultural production throughout the U.S. by giving producers the ability to adjust to unknown future conditions and enhance the sustainability of their production system. New production systems developed around principles of integrated agricultural systems may assist in addressing some of the future challenges and provide greater economic sustainability to producers.

2. The Role of Technology in Developing Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems. Technological advances in biology, engineering, and knowledge systems have contributed to impressive yield gains and have greatly altered U.S. agriculture. Although these technological advances have addressed concerns of a growing world-wide population, these impressive yield gains have come at a cost to natural resources and the farming community. Led by scientists in Stoneville, MS, a multidisciplinary group of researchers explored the processes of innovation and adoption of technologies, how these innovations shaped current U.S. production system, and what will be needed for future agricultural technologies. The researchers concluded that future technologies will need to address emerging issues in land use, decline in work force and societal support of farming, global competition, changing social values in both taste and convenience of food, and increasing concerns for food safety and the environment. The research identified challenges for farmers and researchers to develop technologies through multidisciplinary problem solving approaches that balance the needs of producers with the expectations of society and create economically and environmentally sustainable production systems. Integrated farming systems will impact U.S. production by allowing producers to optimize an array of factors, including environmental and financial, rather than simply focusing on yield alone. By carefully examining current production systems and the influences that have shaped them, scientists and producers can cooperatively develop future technologies that will address sustainability with the needs of farmers, society and the environment in mind.

3. Agricultural Production Systems for Enhanced Ecosystem Services & Environmental Sustainability. The success of industrialized agriculture has had the unintended consequence of decoupling the production and consumption processes as fewer people remain directly involved in agriculture. Though there has been an increasing cognizance of the impact of human activity on natural resources, sustaining our environment requires an examination of both production and consumption to solve problems of natural resource overuse and contamination. Scientists at Stoneville, MS, Mandan, ND, Orono, ME, and Madison, WI, explored the ecological impact of agricultural systems and identifying potential ecosystem services. Integrated agricultural systems were found to have the potential to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. Even with the advantages, however, adoption of integrated agricultural systems is limited. To become sustainable, the scientists identified the need to rethink societal views of agriculture and modify production practices to enhance ecosystem services that agriculture can provide beyond traditional production. Closing the circle of consumption and production will impact U.S. producers and consumers and can serve to reduce the ecological footprint by more completely integrating the entire agricultural system. This knowledge will allow farmers and researchers to orient farming systems towards environmental sustainability, while maintaining economic feasibility.

4. Spatial Variability of Cotton Fiber Quality. Awareness of the importance of cotton fiber quality has increased as advances in spinning technology require better quality cotton fiber. Recent advances in geospatial information allow us to study the extent and causes of spatial variability in cotton fiber parameters. However, these studies are often harvested by hand and ginned on small research gins, resulting in different fiber properties from those that are machine-harvested and ginned on production-scale equipment. Researchers in Stoneville, MS, have developed a method of correcting for error introduced into cotton fiber quality parameters from samples as a result of harvest and ginning methods. Some improvement in accuracy of fiber properties was attained using the correction factors developed here. However, some fiber properties showed no improvement with correction. This error in measurement will need to be recognized in studies exploring differences in spatial distribution of agronomic properties. The results of this research will improve management of cotton production through enhanced knowledge of factors contributing to variability of cotton fiber quality.

5. Economic Benefits of Crop Rotations. Crop rotations have been shown to have agronomic benefits, and are often considered for the economic benefits as well. ARS scientists in Stoneville, MS, in collaboration with university scientists, explored the economic return and risk of cotton rotated with corn for different tillage systems. Results showed that cotton yields were increased when rotated with corn. Gross returns were higher in a monoculture minimum till cotton system. Net returns were larger in a system that included minimum tillage and a corn rotation. The highest net returns and lowest risk were obtained from a minimum till system of cotton rotated with corn every other year. For those producers required to use a no till system, a one year corn-two year cotton rotation provided the highest net returns and least risk. These results will impact the economic return of producers by allowing them to select tillage and crop rotation systems with higher net return.

6. Irrigation Scheduling Methods for Humid Environments. Irrigation scheduling is an important tool in the management of any irrigated crop. Proper timing of irrigations decreases water stress, increasing crop yield and quality, and encourages greater water-use efficiency. Many scheduling tools exist, and differ in the approach (modeling versus measuring) to determining optimal times to apply water. Experiments were conducted using a variety of irrigation scheduling methods to irrigate research plots planted to cotton to test the ease of use, performance, and applicability of the methods under local conditions. The various methods produced similar irrigation schedules, resulting in similar water use and crop yields. The necessity of measuring rainfall at the individual field level was stressed in order to provide an accurate water balance. These results will impact the efficiency of irrigation, and can potentially improve crop production.

6.Technology Transfer

Number of Invention Disclosures Submitted1

Review Publications
Sassenrath, G.F., Hanson, J.D., Hendrickson, J.R., Archer, D.W., Halloran, J.M., Steiner, J.J. 2009. Principles of Dynamic Integrated Agricultural Systems: Lessons learned from an examination of Southeast Production Systems. Agroecosystem Management for Ecological, Social, Economic Sustainibility, Advances in Agroecology Series. pp 259-269

Hendrickson, J.R., Hanson, J.D., Tanaka, D.L., Sassenrath, G.F. 2008. Principles of Integrated Agricultural Systems: Introduction to Processes and Definition. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 23(4):265-271.

Hendrickson, J.R., Sassenrath, G.F., Archer, D.W., Hanson, J.D., Halloran, J.M. 2008. Interactions in Integrated Agricultural Systems: The Past, Present and Future. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 23(4):314-324.

Hendrickson, J.R., Liebig, M.A., Sassenrath, G.F. 2008. Environment and Integrated Agricultural Systems. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 23(4):304-313.

Martin, S.W., Hanks, J.E. 2008. Economic Analysis of No Tillage and Minimum Tillage Cotton-Corn Rotations in the Mississippi Delta. Soil & Tillage Research. doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.08.09

Sassenrath, G.F. 2009. Developing Accurate Spatial Maps of Cotton Fiber Quality Parameters. Applied Statistics In Agriculture Conference Proceedings,CD-ROM

Last Modified: 4/23/2014
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