1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Develop and evaluate food, feed, and bioenergy cropping systems resilient to increasing climatic variability through the application of site-specific soil and crop management. Develop biological assays and soil sensors that are capable of describing soil quality variations between diverse management systems and across landscapes.
1b. Approach (from AD-416):
In this project, our interdisciplinary team will address key knowledge and technology gaps limiting the development of landscape-based site-specific management systems. We will develop methods that use the spatial soil and yield data collected with precision farming technologies to determine where on the landscape to best place alternative crops, such as perennial bioenergy crops. We will also conduct field research to evaluate the production, profitability, and environmental ramifications of bioenergy crops. To better understand soil quality impacts of different management systems, we will develop systems incorporating biological assays and electronic sensor technology that can be deployed for field measurements. We will evaluate site-specific management systems that increase nitrogen use efficiency and that incorporate landscape targeting of conservation measures for improved resilience to climatic variability. Management system evaluations will include on-farm research with active participation by crop producers and crop advisors. Products of this research will include soil quality indicators, sensors for measurement of multiple soil properties, and agricultural and conservation practices specifically designed to deal with landscape variability.
3. Progress Report:
Progress under project objective 1, “Develop and evaluate food, feed, and bioenergy cropping systems”: (1) Yield maps from an 11- county area in Missouri were analyzed using various statistical and mathematical tools to evaluate the impact of soil and landscape features on yield. The investigation revealed that the effect of different management factors (such as planting date) and year-to-year weather differences dominate over soil and landscape effects. Other analytical techniques are being explored. (2) Bioenergy crops were harvested and data analyzed to understand the impact of topsoil depth on grain and switchgrass yields. Miscanthus field research was initiated and baseline soil sampling was conducted on producers’ fields prior to spring 2012 miscanthus planting. (3) A new study was initiated to determine the interaction of soil type, hybrid, population, and side-dress nitrogen fertilizer management strategy on yield performance of sensor-based nitrogen application systems. This study is in cooperation with the University of Nebraska and South Dakota State University, for a total of six field sites. Other crop canopy sensor studies were postponed due to logistics, and corn crop failure at non-irrigated sites. (4) Precision agriculture system field operations were conducted according to protocol. The 2012 soybean crop showed less drought stress than many other nearby fields, presumably because of no-till cropping and aggressive use of cover crops to build a substantial residue base. Progress under project objective 2, “Develop biological assays and soil sensors for describing soil quality”: (1) Baseline analyses of soil quality indicators (SQI) on cropping systems plots are nearly complete and provide insights on effects of management on soil properties after 20 years. Biological activity, aggregate stability, and active carbon content appear to be good indicators for detecting soil quality improvement caused by consistent inputs of organic matter in systems with long crop rotations that include cover crops and with perennial vegetation in forage plots. These findings will be critical in validating a soil quality index model for crop-landscape systems and serve as basis for studies evaluating soil protein characterization (proteomics) as a sensitive SQI. (2) Initial studies relating sensor data to SQI were completed and documented. Based on initial results, refinements in procedures for future data collection are under consideration.