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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Agricultural Systems Research » Research » Research Project #425353

Research Project: Development of Ecologically-Sound Pest, Water and Soil Management Practices for Northern Great Plains Cropping Systems

Location: Agricultural Systems Research

2014 Annual Report

1. Develop novel, integrated technologies and management protocols to improve irrigated crop production systems that increase crop yield, diversify crop rotations; reduce economic and environmental risk; improve water and nitrogen use efficiency; and enhance biological resiliency and soil health and fertility. 2. Develop sustainable, biologically based cost-effective control strategies for management of specific plant diseases that currently limit productivity in NGP cropping systems. Subobjective 2.1. Develop biocontrol based management using specific Trichoderma species to manage Cercospera leaf spot in sugarbeet and net blotch in barley in NGP cropping systems. Subobjective 2.2. Evaluate the effects of oilseed crops on microbial communities that impact soilborne pathogens in NGP dryland cropping systems. 3. Develop no-till sustainable crop production strategies for long-term dryland crop production systems using diverse crop rotations that include cereals, pulse crops, oilseeds and other bioenergy crops to improve water productivity, N use efficiency and enhance ecosystem services that reduce economic and environmental risks while maintaining high levels of crop production. Subobjective 3.1. Develop no-till diversified dryland crop rotations that include cereal, pulse and oilseed crops and that increase crop water productivity, N-use efficiency, soil quality and whole-farm economic competitiveness while maintaining yield and quality of the individual crops. Subobjective 3.2. Determine the sequence of cereal, pulse and oilseed crops in no-till dryland rotations that optimizes yield, crop water productivity, and N-use efficiency.

Agriculture is facing major challenges in providing food, fiber, and fuel to a growing population with limited land and water resources. With rising incomes, longer life spans, changes in dietary preferences, and demands for improved nutrition, pressures are mounting to double agricultural production by 2050. In the Northern Great Plains, traditional dryland cropping systems that include conventional tillage with crop-fallow are uneconomical and unsustainable. Also, with the availability of unallocated irrigation water in the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, areas under irrigated cropping systems are poised to increase in the MonDak region (eastern Montana, western North Dakota), resulting in new markets and potential for increased crop diversity. To address these critical issues, best practices for conservation tillage and diversified dryland and irrigated cropping systems must be developed. Our proposed research addresses these needs by utilizing cropping system trials to develop scientifically-sound, diversified dryland and irrigated cropping strategies that: (1) improve management of water, soil, nutrients, and agrochemicals through increased efficiency, (2) diversify crop rotations to include cereals, pulse, oilseed, and bioethanol crops, (3) utilize biological control and cultural management for reduced infestation of pests, diseases, and weeds, and (4) increase net farm productivity. Successful completion of this project will provide stakeholders and customers with tools to reduce labor, water, input, and energy requirements while increasing crop yield and quality and improving soil and environmental quality. These tools will be transferred to stakeholders through research paper publications, field tours, focus group meetings, agricultural fairs, bulletins, websites, and other outreach activities.

Progress Report
Irrigated Cropping Systems: The fourth year of the EARC (Sidney) irrigated cropping systems study was completed in 2013, but results were severely affected by hail. Agronomic results from the first three years (2010-2012) show that sugarbeet performance was better (14% in 2011) when rotated with barley and soybean than when rotated only with barley. Growing sugarbeet following an annual legume (soybean) in the three-year rotation resulted in approximately $35 per hectare in savings due to reduced nitrogen fertilizer inputs compared to the two-year rotation. In another trial, removing corn residue reduced ground cover from 93% to 32%. Soybean emergence was 7.6% less and seed yield was 11% less when no-till soybean was planted into full corn residue compared to when residue was completely removed. The first year of Nesson Valley (North Dakota) irrigated cropping systems study was completed. Soil physical and hydraulic properties were collected from a corn-soybean rotation under till and no-till practices. These properties included soil compaction, water flow into the soil surface and within the soil profile, soil structure, and moisture content. Data were statistically analyzed and summarized. Sixteen automated passive capillary water samplers (PCAPs) were used to continuously monitor real-time amounts of drainage water below the rootzone in till and no-till plots under a corn-soybean rotation at the Nesson irrigated site. Further, drainage water amounts below the rootzone were measured weekly during the growing season and analyzed for nitrate-N. Sugarbeet root and sucrose yields, water use and water use productivity from the EARC previous unit study under conventional and strip tillage practices were summarized and statistically analyzed. Dryland Cropping Systems: All necessary planting, soil sampling, fertilizer application, and harvest activities were completed in a timely manner. Crop sequences were established and soil samples were taken for soil water and N in two large and complex dryland long-term (2013-2019 and 2013-2021) unit trials with varying levels of cropping intensity and management. Crop Diseases: We initiated a new method to isolate the predominant fungal disease attacking bacteria from soil and three enzyme assays to quantify the disease fighting activity of the bacteria. We discovered that the bacterium Pantoea agglomerans isolated from camelina roots can attack the sugarbeet leaf spot disease Cercospora beticola in the laboratory and in the greenhouse. Experiments to determine the microbial community, enzyme activity, soil aggregation, and populations of beneficial soil fungi for the project of “returning cereal crop residue to the soil in the Northern Great Plains” were initiated this year. The lab continued limited field trials to evaluate the biological control of Cercospora beticola (leaf spot) of sugarbeet and Pyrenophora teres (net blotch of barley). The trials are focused on survival of the potential agent in field soil. Seeds that were treated in previous years with Laetisaria arvalis, the biocontrol agent, and cultures are being evaluated in field trials for survival. Also in collaboration with University of South Carolina, we applied electron microscopy to examine the interaction between L. arvalis and P. teres. This is crucial in the development of a biological control system to manage net blotch of barley.

1. Regional adoption of more diverse rotations involving sugarbeet. Sugarbeet is susceptible to a number of diseases, insect and weed problems. Together with sugar industry agriculturalists, ARS researchers in Sidney, MT have been emphasizing the benefits of rotational diversity to regional sugarbeet growers citing research results from ARS as well as those from other research facilities. The agricultural manager from a sugar company has reported there is a substantial and ongoing trend for area sugarbeet growers to convert from 2-year to 3-year rotations. According to the regional industry, there has been a notable increase in soybean as a rotational crop since the ARS cropping systems study was initiated in 2009. This change in production practices not only reduces the risk of devastating pest infestations and spreads economic risk but also contributes organically fixed nitrogen to the cropping system by including an annual legume as a rotational crop.

2. Bacteria found to attack sugarbeet disease. Researchers at ARS in Sidney, MT studied the interactions of economically important sugarbeet leaf spot disease (a fungus) with various bacteria found in dryland fields. One bacterium, Pantoea agglomerans, was found to produce high levels of carotenoids and thus tolerates the defense of the leaf spot disease, and is able to then attack the disease by degrading cell walls of the pathogen made of chitin. Greenhouse experiments showed significant reduction of leaf spots on sugar beet plants when P. agglomerans was added in combination with the fungal pathogen spores. This bacterium may be highly useful as an ecological replacement to fungicides typically used to fight this disease.

3. Cool-season oilseeds are potential feedstocks for jet fuel: ARS researchers at Sidney, MT investigated the potential of six winter- and twelve spring-types of oilseeds to produce hydro-treated renewable jet (HRJ) fuels. Seed yield among the 16 entries ranged between 0 and 1372 kg per hectare for the 2013 harvest. Spring types of rapeseed, camelina, and Ethiopian mustards generally showed the greatest yield potential. Camelina was the only winter type that showed potential as an oilseed feedstock. Cool-season oilseed feedstocks can potentially offset the demand for petroleum based transportation fuels while improving ecosystem services in the northern Great Plains through reduction of fallow acreage and diversification of dryland cropping systems.

4. Robust management practice for dryland malt barley. The traditional farming practice of conventional tillage with malt barley-fallow has reduced soil quality and annualized grain yield by enhancing soil organic matter mineralization. Scientists at ARS, Sidney, MT have identified a robust management practice that includes a no-till barley-pea rotation which reduced nitrogen fertilization rate by 54% and nitrogen losses through leaching, volatilization, and denitrification by 125%, increased soil carbon storage by 11%, mitigated net greenhouse gas emissions by 73%, and enhanced malt barley yield and quality from 24 to 44% compared with the traditional system. Producers can simultaneously reduce chemical input and energy use, enhance soil and environmental quality, and sustain dryland malt barley yield and grain quality by adopting this management practice.

5. Reduced tillage with continuous cropping enhances dryland soil organic matter. A 30-year experiment conducted by ARS, Sidney, MT on the effects of tillage intensity and cropping sequence on soil carbon and nitrogen showed that no-till and spring till continuous spring wheat reduced dryland soil bulk density by 13 to 21%, enhanced soil carbon and nitrogen storage by 14 to 29%, and increased annualized wheat grain yield by 50 to 52% compared to traditional spring till spring wheat-fallow cropping. Farmers can obtain benefits of reduced energy use, increased carbon credit, and improved soil quality and crop yields by using reduced tillage and adopting continuous cropping compared to traditional systems.

6. Better crop water use and crop water productivity under strip tillage. ARS scientists in Sidney, MT conducted a 3-yr study to evaluate the effect of conventional tillage and strip tillage on crop water use and crop water productivity of sugarbeet root yield in clay loam soil. The strip tillage used 2,500 gallons of irrigation water less than conventional tillage to produce one ton of sugarbeet roots. They concluded that the strip tillage system can be used to produce sugarbeet root yield and crop water productivity levels equal to, or in some instances greater, than that of conventional tillage systems. Sugarbeet producers can reduce their fuel and labor requirements, use less irrigation water and increase their profitability by using strip tillage practices.

7. Non-destructive analysis of three-dimensional objects using a fluid displacement method. Collaboration between researchers at ARS Sidney, MT and agricultural engineers at Purdue University led to the development of a novel and simple apparatus for quantifying three-dimensional objects using a fluid displacement method. The apparatus was designed, built and tested at Sidney, MT to facilitate the characterization of three-dimensional objects for shape and volume comparisons. This novel method has numerous agricultural, hydrological and environmental applications that save considerable time and money over standard methods, and allows users to objectively describe the volume of samples to allow statistical comparisons among treatments. Though the method was originally conceived for description of soil macropore and crack molds, it was quickly adapted as a useful tool for the characterization of sugar beet root shapes, which are typically described visually and by weight. This new method provides producers and researchers more detailed and objective measurements of sugar beet root morphology under different tillage systems.

Review Publications
Allen, B.L., Vigil, M.F., Jabro, J.D. 2014. Camelina growing degree hour and base temperature requirements. Agronomy Journal. 106(3):940-944.
Allen, B.L., Lenssen, A.W., Sainju, U.M., Caesar, T., Evans, R.G. 2014. Nitrogen use in durum and selected Brassicaceae oilseeds in two-year rotations. Agronomy Journal. 106(3):821-830.
Lenssen, A.W., Sainju, U.M., Jabro, J.D., Iversen, W.M., Allen, B.L., Evans, R.G. 2014. Crop diversification, tillage, and management system influences on spring wheat yield and soil water use. Agronomy Journal. 106(4):1445–1454. DOI: 10.2134/agronj14.0119.
Nichols, K.A., Halvorson, J.J., Caesar, T. 2013. Roles of biology, chemistry, and physics in soil macroaggregate formation and stabilization. Open Agriculture Journal. 7:107-117.
Sainju, U.M., Stevens, W.B., Caesar, T., Liebig, M.A., Wang, J. 2014. Net global warming potential and greenhouse gas intensity influenced by irrigation, tillage, crop rotation, and nitrogen fertilization. Journal of Environmental Quality. 43(3):777–788.
Sainju, U.M., Stevens, W.B., Caesar, T. 2014. Soil carbon and crop yields affected by irrigation, tillage, crop rotation, and nitrogen fertilization. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78(3):936-948. DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2013.12.0514.
Sainju, U.M., Barsotti, J.L., Wang, J. 2014. Net global warming potential and greenhouse gas intensity affected by cropping sequence and nitrogen fertilization. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78(1):248-261.
Sainju, U.M. 2014. Cropping sequence and nitrogen fertilization impact on surface residue, soil carbon sequestration, and crop yields. Agronomy Journal. 106(4):1231-1242.
Sainju, U.M., Barsotti, J.L., Lenssen, A.W., Hatfield, P.G. 2014. Particulate and active soil nitrogen fractions are reduced by sheep grazing in dryland cropping systems. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems. 99(1-3):79-93. DOI: 10.1007/s10705-014-9619-8.
Barsotti, J.L., Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Montagne, C., Hatfield, P. 2013. Crop yields and soil organic matter responses to sheep grazing in U.S. northern Great Plains. Soil and Tillage Research. 134:133–141. Available:
Evans, R.G., Sadler, E.J. 2013. Chapter 10: Precision agriculture for sustainability and environmental protection. In: Oliver, M.A., Bishop, T.F.A., Marchant, B.P., editors. Site-Specific Irrigation Water Management. Earthscan Food and Agriculture Series. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 172-190.
Sainju, U.M., Stevens, W.B., Evans, R.G., Iversen, W.M. 2013. Irrigation system and tillage effects on soil carbon and nitrogen fractions. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 77(4):1225-1234.
Caesar, T., Stevens, W.B., Sainju, U.M., Caesar, A.J., West, M.S., Gaskin, J.F. 2014. Soil-aggregating bacterial community as affected by irrigation, tillage, and cropping system in the Northern Great Plains. Soil Science. 179(1):11-20.
Caesar, A.J., Lartey, R.T., Caesar, T., Gaskin, J.F. 2014. First report of Rhizoctonia spp. causing a root rot of the invasive rangeland weed Lepidium draba in North America. Plant Disease Notes. 98(9):1278. DOI: 10.1094/PDIS-03-14-0300-PDN.
Jabro, J.D., Iversen, W.M., Evans, R.G., Allen, B.L., Stevens, W.B. 2014. Repeated freeze-thaw cycle effects on soil compaction in a clay loam in northeastern Montana. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 78(3): 737-744. DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2013.07.0280.