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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

2015 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
Objectives 1 and 3, Subobjectives 1.2, 1.3, 3.1. Soil Health and Green House Gases: Soil health and nitrogen stewardship are identified as important indicators among the 10 building blocks to achieve the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry priority of the USDA. This initiative targets to increase carbon sequestration by 12 m metric tons CO2 equivalent by 2025. The ARS researchers in Sidney, MT investigated the soil health benefits of cover crops, crop rotations with diversity of crops, and residue incorporation (as opposed to residue removal for biomass for bioenergy) in irrigated and dry land cropping systems in the Northern Plains region. Improved sensor technology for real time automated measurement and data delivery of soil water content within and below the root zone was evaluated to investigate its application to improve irrigation scheduling aimed to minimize nitrogen leaching losses below the root zone. Objective 1, Subobjectives 1.1, 1.2, 1.3. Irrigated Crop Research: The fifth year of the ARS Sidney, MT irrigated cropping systems study was completed. Sugar yield was 16% higher in a three-year rotation with a cereal grain (corn or barley) and soybean than when rotated only with barley. Sugarbeet following soybean in the three-year rotation resulted in approximately $35 per hectare in savings due to reduced nitrogen (N) fertilizer inputs compared to the two-year rotation. Removing corn residue reduced ground cover from 93% to 32%. Emergence was 7.6% less and seed yield was 11% lower when no-till soybean was planted into full corn residue compared to residue removal. In the second year (2014) of another cropping systems study, sugarbeet grown without preplant tillage (i.e., direct seeded) yielded 13.6% less than with conventional preplant tillage practices. Soil physical properties from the corn-soybean rotation under no-till and till practices were measured. The second year of processing and analyzing water samples for nitrate concentration was completed. Data from the 2014 were statistically analyzed and summarized. Real-time monitoring of drainage using automated water samplers was performed. Water characteristics curves and hydraulic properties under soil saturated and unsaturated conditions were determined using cutting edge technology. Soil water contents in the root zone for irrigation management and crop water use were measured. Objective 3, Subobjectives 3.1, 3.2. Dryland Crop Research: Crop sequences continue to be established for two large and complex dryland long-term (2013-2019 and 2013-2021) unit trials with varying levels of cropping intensity and management in 1-, 3- and 4-yr no-till rotations. Grain and biomass yields, soil samples, and greenhouse gas samples have been collected, parts of which have been analyzed from a dryland wheat-pea experiment. Soil carbon and nitrogen concentrations have been analyzed from a dryland stacked rotation vs. monocropping with various management practices. Soil samples from a long-term wheat-pea experiment have been analyzed for chemical properties and results published. Data on grain yield and quality of malt barley and pea with various management practices in irrigated and non-irrigated systems have been analyzed and published.

1. Reduced tillage and cost savings in irrigated sugarbeet production. Preparation of a loose, fine seed-bed using intensive tillage has been emphasized for decades as being essential for successful sugarbeet production. Higher fuel and labor costs combined with lower returns for sugar have rendered this practice unsustainable. Furthermore, the risk of soil erosion and associated seedling damage resulting from intensive tillage has increased interest in reduced tillage among sugarbeet growers. ARS researchers in Sidney, MT have been emphasizing the benefits of reduced tillage, including direct seeding and strip tillage, to regional sugarbeet growers citing research results from their work as well those from other research facilities. Up to 50% of growers in some sugarbeet production areas in the region have adopted strip tillage, but little information has been published regarding direct seeding practices. While only two years of ARS’s 8-year study have been completed, preliminary results suggest that, while productivity of direct-seeded sugarbeet still lags behind that of conventional tillage, system modifications including fertilizer and residue management, can help make direct seeding a viable option for sugarbeet growers, potentially reducing production costs by up to $200 per hectare based on Sidney ARS published research results. (Jabro et al., 2015. Agronomy Journal 107:1481-1488; Stevens et al. 2015. Agronomy Journal 107:1250-1258)

2. Dryland cropping system productivity in the Northern Great Plains. Dryland systems can benefit from diversification of the traditional wheat-summer fallow system through improvements in crop sequence and level of management. ARS researchers in Sidney, MT initiated a long-term study to compare the impact of rotation type (stacked vs. alternate-year) and management level (conventional vs. ecological) on canola, flax, and pea grown in rotation with durum. Ecological management included no-till, N fertilizer banded at planting, greater seeding rate, and taller stubble height. Conventional management included single pass tillage with sweeps in spring, fertilizer N broadcast just before planting, standard seeding rate, and standard stubble height. Overall, ecological management increased durum and pea yield, while stacked rotations (e.g. durum-durum-flax-pea) either decreased crop yield (pea) or offered no measurable advantage to alternate-year rotations (e.g. durum-flax-durum-pea). Any differences in yield were not related to water use or water productivity.(Lenssen et al. 2015. Agronomy Journal 107:551-557)

3. Reduced till continuous cropping alters soil chemical properties and increases crop yield. Information is scarce about long-term management on soil chemical properties and crop yield. ARS researchers in Sidney, MT found that 30-years of reduced till continuous cropping increased phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and sodium concentrations, cation exchange capacity, and annualized crop yield but reduced pH and calcium concentration compared with conventional till crop-fallow. This long-term research definitively shows that producers can better maintain long-term dryland soil fertility and crop yield by adapting reduced tillage with continuous cropping. (Sainju et al. 2015. SpringerPlus 4:230)

4. No-till malt barley-pea rotation enhances barley yield and quality. Little is known about the effect of management practices on malt barley yield and quality in irrigated and non-irrigated cropping systems. ARS researchers in Sidney, MT showed that no-till malt barley-pea rotation with nitrogen produced similar barley yield and grain plumpness and better protein levels compared with conventional till continuous malt barley with or without nitrogen in irrigated and non-irrigated conditions. Farmers can enhance malt barley yield and quality and reduce N fertilization rate by using no-till malt barley pea rotation in irrigated cropping systems, and during years of adequate precipitation, in non-irrigated cropping systems. (Sainju et al. 2013. Agronomy Journal 105:329-340)

Review Publications
Jabro, J.D., Stevens, W.B., Iversen, W.M., Evans, R.G., Allen, B.L. 2014. Crop water productivity of sugarbeet as affected by tillage. Agronomy Journal. 106(6):2280-2286.
Hansen, N.C., Tubbs, S.R., Fernandez, F.G., Green, S., Hansen, N., Stevens, W.B. 2015. Chapter 17: Conservation agriculture in North America. In: Farooq, M. and Siddique, K., Editors. Conservation Agriculture. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. XIX, p. 417-442.
Lenssen, A., Sainju, U.M., Jabro, J.D., Allen, B.L., Evans, R.G. 2015. Management and tillage system influence forage barley productivity and water use in dryland cropping systems. Agronomy Journal. 107(2):551-557.
Stevens, W.B., Evans, R.G., Iversen, W.M., Jabro, J.D., Sainju, U.M., Allen, B.L. 2015. Strip tillage and high-efficiency irrigation applied to a sugarbeet-barley rotation. Agronomy Journal. 107(4):1250-1258. DOI: 10.2134/agronj14.0525.
Miller, Z.J., Menalled, F.D., Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Hatfield, P.G. 2014. Integrating sheep grazing into cereal-based crop rotations: spring wheat yields and weed communities. Agronomy Journal. 107(1):104-112.
Jabro, J.D., Iversen, W.M., Stevens, W.B., Evans, R.G., Mikha, M.M., Allen, B.L. 2015. Effect of three tillage depths on sugarbeet response and soil penetrability resistance. Agronomy Journal. 107(4):1481-1488. DOI: 10.2134/agronj14.0561.
Byrd, S.A., Rowland, D.L., Bennett, J., Zotarelli, L., Wright, D., Alva, A.K., Nordgaard, J. 2014. Reduction in a commercial potato irrigation schedule during tuber bulking in Florida: Physiological, Yield, and Quality effects. Journal of Crop Improvement. 28: 660-679.
Jabro, J.D., Stevens, W.B., Iversen, W.M., Evans, R.G. 2015. Spatial and temporal variability of soil penetration resistance transecting sugarbeet rows and inter-rows in tillage systems. Agronomy Journal. 31(2):237-246. DOI: 10.13031/aea.31.10722.
Mikha, M.M., Hergert, G.W., Nielsen, R.A., Benjamin, J.G., Jabro, J.D. 2015. Long-term manure impacts on soil aggregates and aggregate-associated carbon and nitrogen. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 10.2136/sssaj2014.09.0348.
Sainju, U.M., Stevens, W.B., Caesar, T., Montagne, C. 2014. Nitrogen dynamics affected by management practices in croplands transitioning from Conservation Reserve Program. Agronomy Journal. 106(5):1677-1689.
Wang, J., Sainju, U.M. 2014. Soil carbon and nitrogen fractions and crop yields affected residue placement and crop species. PLoS One. 9(8):1-11. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105039.
Baumhardt, R.L., Stewart, B., Sainju, U.M. 2015. Soil Degradation: A North American perspective. Sustainability 7(3):2936-2960.
Sainju, U.M., Allen, B.L., Caesar, T., Lenssen, A.W. 2015. Dryland soil chemical properties and crop yields affected by long-term tillage and cropping sequence. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 4:230. DOI: 10.1186/s40064-015-1122-4.
Gao, Y., Jia, L., Hu, B., Alva, A.K., Fan, M. 2015. Potato stolon and tuber growth influenced by nitrogen form. Journal of Plant Production Science. 17(2):138-143.
Liu, G., Li, Y., Alva, A.K. 2014. Comparing gibbs energy relationships for ammonia volatilizations from agricultural soils for potato production. American Journal of Environmental Sciences. 10(1):19-25. DOI: 10.3844/ajessp.2014.19.25.
Saleh, A.L., El-Kaker, A.A., Alva, A.K. 2015. Response of two wheat cultivars to supplemental nitrogen under different salinity stress. Journal of Agricultural Science. 7(6):14-19. DOI: 10.5539/jas.v7n6p14.
Zhang, L., Li, S., Alva, A.K., Ashraf, M. 2014. Potassium fertilization mitigates the adverse effects of drought on selected Zea mays cultivars. Turkish Journal of Botany. 38:713-723. DOI: 10.3906/bot-1308-47.