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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service



2011 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416)
Generally, we are designing crop and animal management strategies based on sound biogeochemical principles, that are profitable, and have positive environmental impacts. Specifically, we are developing strategies based on experiments evaluating tillage and cover crop management, crop selection and productivity, forage quality and availability, plant genetics, grazing pressure, animal health and productivity, animal manure application, nutrient cycling, soil quality, carbon storage, and water runoff and quality.

1b. Approach (from AD-416)
To be able to simultaneously address production and environmental issues, we are taking a multidisciplinary approach to 1) understand biogeochemical mechanisms and processes involved in water and nutrient cycles, 2) evaluate alternative management options and 3) develop management systems to improve the sustainability of agriculture in the region. This requires both field and laboratory investigations, including fescue toxicosis effects on animal physiology. Several field studies will give long-term perspectives and yield realistic relationships between productivity and environmental health cropping studies include: 1) water catchments receiving poultry litter with different tillage management and 2) cover cropping trials based on plant species and method and timing of killing. Pasture studies include 1) evaluation of grazing pressure and organic-inorganic fertilization on soil organic C storage, nutrient runoff, and productivity and 2) water catchments with differences in endophyte association, organic-inorganic fertilization, and presence of cattle.

3. Progress Report
Laboratory analyses from several long-term field studies and soil testing evaluations continued to be processed and verified. Long-term studies remaining active in this project included the Water Quality Study contributing to the objective of determining soil responses to cropping systems and Cattle and Cotton Watershed Study contributing to the objective of determining soil responses to integrated crop-livestock systems. Other field studies that were outlined in the project plan and that had contributed to our objectives were terminated this year due to lack of funds and/or reallocation of resources, including the Dawson Field Grazing Study contributing to the objective of determining soil responses to pasture systems and the Pasture-Crop Rotation Study contributing to the objective of determining soil responses to integrated crop-livestock systems. Additional long-term field studies terminated in previous years due to reallocation of resources included the Silage Cropping Intensity Study to meet the objective of determining soil responses to cropping systems and Salem Road Grazing Study to meet the objective of determining soil responses to pasture systems. Soil organic carbon content under various cropping, pasture, and pasture-crop rotation systems is being determined and data are contributing significantly to a growing demand for information on how conservation agricultural systems can contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists involved with this research project are active in assembling original data, reviewing the literature, and synthesizing available information for technical advisors. Scientific advice derived from this project has been offered to the Soil Science Society of America special committees, Cotton Incorporated, Grassland Carbon Working Group associated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, Technical Working Group on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, Global Agriculture Climate Assessment, Field to Market: Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and the USDA-NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Program for Pasture Lands. This project replaced Project 6612-11120-003-00D.

4. Accomplishments
1. Better management of soil will improve our future global prospects. Tumultuous changes in Earth’s natural resources are alarming. Forests are shrinking, species are vanishing, fresh water is receding, skies are besmirching, soils are being washed to the sea, and climate appears more capricious. A committee of scientists from the Soil Science Society of America assembled the following questions of great importance that connect the sustainability of our future with greater knowledge and appreciation of soil. How do we double the output of food in the next 50 years without harming our soils or the broader environment? How can we manage our soils to use dwindling pools of fresh water more wisely? With increasing cost and scarcity of nutrients, how do we preserve and enhance the fertility of our soils while expecting even bigger harvests? How can we manage our lands to adjust for increasing demands for energy? How will changes to climate affect the productivity and resilience of our soils? How can we better understand and enhance the diversity of organisms within and upon the soil to create more resilient and fructuous ecosystems? How can we better use soils as biogeochemical reactors to re-cycle wastes, thereby avoiding contamination and maintaining soil productivity? How can we develop a seamless global perspective of lands that still allows us to optimize management practices for local places, wherever they may be? We suggest that soil scientists: 1) re-focus and re-double research efforts on these questions; 2) entice new scientists with the grandeur of the issues; 3) ensure that expertise is available globally across geographic, geopolitical and economic boundaries; and 4) improve communication with society to tell the story of soils’ fundamental and evolving role in our future.

2. Global research alliance aims for collaboration to assess greenhouse gases. Increasing human population pressure on the Earth is of great concern and a key reason why agricultural and natural resource sciences must be fully engaged to develop solutions for a sustainable future. Increasing population puts pressure on the demand for food, clean water, healthy soil, and a stable climate. USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists along with scientists from 30 other countries have become a part of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases to share scientific resources globally to make more rapid change toward adoption of best management practices for greater productivity and mitigation of greenhouse gases under the diversity of agricultural conditions in the world. This report outlines the short-term objectives of the croplands, livestock, and paddy rice research groups in the Alliance. The Alliance was undertaken to transcend the science of natural resource management beyond political borders to secure a sustainable future.

Review Publications
Franzluebbers, A.J. 2010. Soil organic carbon in managed pastures of the southeastern USA [CDROM]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Technical Workshop Report.

Last Modified: 2/23/2016
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