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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Soil Management Research

2011 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416)
Objective 1: Identify and develop new and alternative crops and cropping strategies for the northern U.S. • Sub-objective 1-1. Identify best adapted species/genotypes of new, alternative, and traditional crops for biofuels and bioproducts production in northern climates. • Sub-objective 1-2. Develop innovative, and improve existing strategies for managing new, alternative, and traditional crops. • Sub-objective 1-3. Determine environmental limitations on growth, development, and seed oil and nutritional quality of new, alternative, and traditional crops. Objective 2: Develop new strategies and decision aids to improve and increase the efficiency of weed management. • Sub-objective 2-1. Develop biological models of important invasive and prominent weeds, stressing critical life history events. • Sub-objective 2-2. Develop and improve weed management models. • Sub-objective 2-3. Explore feasibilities of entirely new strategies of managing weeds, focusing on increasing research on biologically-based integrated weed management.

1b. Approach (from AD-416)
Two mutually supporting approaches will be taken to meet our objectives. The first involves a series of field studies to identify new (e.g. cuphea, pennycress, and bifora) and alternative crop genotypes (e.g. camelina and calendula), develop practices to manage them, and use these crops along with traditional crops to develop alternative strategies (double- and relay-cropping) to add innovative economic and environmental benefits. Additionally, controlled-environment and field experiments will be conducted to determine environmental limitations (e.g. water and soil and air temperature) to growth of new and alternative crops. The second approach involves the integration of field and controlled-environment experiments of weed growth and development, innovative weed control methods, and computer modeling to develop decision support aids to efficiently and effectively manage weeds in cropping systems that include new and alternative, as well as traditional crops. Together the outcomes of this research will provide clientele with new knowledge, crops, and management tools to increase cropping efficiency and diversity in northern climates.

3. Progress Report
Project personnel work on two primary objectives: 1) identify and develop new and alternative crops and cropping strategies for the northern U.S. to provide environmental and economic benefits; and 2) integrate weed growth and development data, innovative weed control methods, and computer modeling to develop decision support aids to efficiently and effectively manage weeds in cropping systems for both new and traditional crops. Progress towards the first objective includes further development of the new oilseed crops calendula, camelina, and cuphea as renewable sources of oil for bioproducts and biofuels. Research this period identified four camelina varieties capable of producing nearly twice as much oil per acre as soybean, which currently is the primary source of biodiesel in the U.S. Furthermore, our team continues to research double-cropping soybean after winter camelina to allow more oil production and provide both food and fuel on the same land in a single season. The personal care product giant Aveda Corporation (owned by Estee Lauder) continued to support our cuphea research. Results of this work showed that cuphea species with high value but prone to shattering seed, can be successfully grown using inexpensive mulching fabric to catch shed seed that is then vacuum harvested. Additionally, a new research agreement was formed with Technology Crops International, a specialty oilseed company from North Carolina to support our research to develop cuphea and Echium as viable commercial sources of specialty oils. Echium seed contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is a type of oil highly valued for health supplements and cosmetic products. Progress towards our second research objective includes successful identification of herbicides tolerated by calendula which allowed our team to develop recommendations for the use of individual or combinations of pre-and post-emergence herbicides to control weeds in calendula production. This information is being used by the seed industry to obtain clearance for the use of these herbicides for calendula production. Additionally, the post-emergence herbicide, clopyralid, was found to be tolerated by cuphea. This discovery will allow more efficient weed control in cuphea grown in northern Corn Belt states. We also continued to research a new weed control tactic that utilizes the grit of plant residues such as corn cobs and walnut shells propelled by a sand blaster to abrade and kill weed seedlings. The method was field-verified successfully in 2009 and 2010. A prototype multi-row applicator currently is being constructed by collaborating agricultural engineers at South Dakota State University through a NC-SARE grant to our team. Experiments were continued to evaluate weed phenological responses (e.g. timing of shoot emergence and growth) to differing levels of microclimate-derived variables.

4. Accomplishments
1. Improved planting management for cuphea production. Cuphea is a new oilseed crop being developed for the northern Corn Belt that can serve as a domestically produced source of oil similar to tropical plant oils that are presently imported into the U.S. for chemical manufacturing. Successful and efficient commercial-scale production of cuphea requires the development of best agricultural management practices. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, determined the optimum seeding rate (8 lb/acre) and row spacing (15 to 22 inch) for cuphea that maximizes seed yield while minimizing a farmer’s input costs related to planting. This knowledge will ultimately help farmers to more successfully manage cuphea production and increase their net economic returns.

2. Climate and soil environment influence cuphea seed oil characteristics. Saturated small and medium chain plant oils can serve as highly efficient, renewable and biodegradable feedstock for advanced biofuels such as aircraft fuel. Cuphea is one of only a few plant sources of such oil that can be grown in the U.S., but its oil yield and quality are affected by growth environment. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, in collaboration with a large contingent of university and other ARS researchers from North Dakota, Illinois, and Iowa discovered that certain cuphea species native to Mexico and South America grew very well across the upper Midwest and that their seed contained large quantities of oil that could be used for making high quality aircraft fuel. The U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Project Agency program helped fund the research. We also found that oil quality in cuphea seed necessary for efficient biofuel production increased the further south that cuphea was grown in the Midwest, but that total oil yield was greater the further north that it was grown. This information will help to determine the best areas to grow cuphea depending on the application for its oil and will also aid crop breeders in domestication efforts and developing better agronomic varieties.

3. Controlling weeds with organic fertilizer. Efficient weed control is vital for profitable crop production, especially organic farming. Weed control options available to organic farmers are restricted. The ARS lab in Morris, Minnesota, in collaboration with New Zealand scientists, tested using corn gluten particles, an organically approved fertilizer, propelled under pressure by a sand blaster to abrade and kill weeds for control. When nozzle applicators were within 1 foot of a weed and a pressure of greater than 40 pounds per square inch was used, the technique was highly effective at controlling foxtail, a weed of world-wide economic importance. This new ARS-developed technology potentially allows for nitrogen fertilization and weed control to be done at the same time in organically produced crops. This technology is of interest to agricultural machinery manufacturers as well as organic farmers who grow crops in widely spaced rows such as corn, grapes, and blueberries.

4. Efficient, cost effective method to predict weed seedling emergence. Small 3 feet x 3 feet sheets of clear plastic when placed on the soil surface in very early spring act like tiny greenhouses. Sunlight passes through them, heats the underlying soil, and promotes early germination of annual weed seeds. This simple low-cost technique can be used by crop scouts or farmers to monitor early-emerging weeds and make decisions regarding weed control (e.g., herbicide selection and rate) before the crop is even planted. What isn’t known, however, is how many of these plastic sheets should be used in large fields to accurately assess weed emergence. The ARS lab in Morris, Minnesota, along with scientists from Argentina, teamed up to determine the number of small plastic sheets necessary to accurately predict weed seedling emergence in the U.S. and Argentina. For instance 1 sheet per 11 acres was needed to predict crabgrass emergence, while 1 sheet per 5 acres was needed for lambsquarters and green foxtail. The higher density sheeting is necessary when mixtures of these species occur in the same field. The use of this technique may be especially valuable in small fields of high-value crops. This information will help crop scouts and growers make better decisions regarding the choice and rate of herbicides to be applied.

Review Publications
Colbach, N., Forcella, F. 2011. Adapting geostatistics to analyze spatial and temporal trends in weed populations. In: Clay, S., editor. GIS Applications in Agriculture: Invasive Species. Vol. 3. New York: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 319-371.

Forcella, F., James, T., Rahman, A. 2011. Post-emergence weed control through abrasion with an approved organic fertilizer. Renewable Agriculture and Food System. 26(1):31-37.

Gesch, R.W., Kim, K., Forcella, F. 2010. Influence of Seeding Rate and Row Spacing on Cuphea Seed Yield in the Northern Corn Belt. Industrial Crops and Products. 32:692-695.

Kim, K., Gesch, R.W., Cermak, S.C., Phippen, W.B., Berti, M.T., Johnson, B.L., Marek, L. 2011. Cuphea growth, yield, and oil characteristics as influenced by climate and soil environments across the Upper Midwest USA. Industrial Crops and Products. 33:99-107.

Eyherabide, J., Cendoya, M., Forcella, F., Irazazabal, M. 2011. Number of solaria needed to predict weed seedlings in two summer crops. Weed Technology. 25:113-118.

Last Modified: 06/25/2017
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