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

Location: Agricultural Systems Research

2016 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
Dryland Cropping Systems Research: Necessary 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. These field trials will accomplish project objectives by providing information necessary to develop diversified dryland crop production systems that include cereals, pulse crops, oilseeds and other bioenergy crops. Once crop sequences are fully established, data will be collected documenting treatment effects on water productivity, N use efficiency and ecosystem services that reduce economic and environmental risks while maintaining high levels of crop production. All planting, soil sampling, fertilizer application, and harvest activities were completed in a timely manner. Irrigated Cropping Systems: The Eastern Agricultural Research Center (EARC) Sidney irrigated cropping systems study was scheduled to conclude upon completion of the 2015 growing season but all crops sustained severe hail damage in 2015. Consequently, the study was extended one year. As a result, 2016 will be the final year of the project and data will be collected this year to document the cumulative effects of cropping system treatments and residue management practices on crop production and soil characteristics. Agronomic results from 2015, while compromised due to hail, showed significant trends. Results varied somewhat compared to previous years but sugar beet in the more diverse rotation, made up of sugar beet, barley and soybean, yielded as well as in the two-year rotation. Removal of cereal crop residue two years prior to the sugar beet phase had little effect on sugar beet yield. Weather in 2016 has been more favorable to date and plot harvest has begun. The third year of the Nesson Valley (North Dakota) irrigated cropping systems study was completed in 2015. Sugar beet grown without preplant tillage (i.e., direct seeded) yielded similarly to when conventional preplant tillage practices were used. In 2016, collaborative research with a North Dakota State University researcher was initiated to investigate the effects of rotation and tillage on Rhizoctonia root and crown rot in sugar beet. Funding to support the research ($13,000) was secured and data collection initiated. Research continued to evaluate the effects of tillage systems on soil physical properties in irrigated cropping systems: Soil physical properties in a corn-soybean rotation under no-tilled and tilled practices were measured and the third year of determining nitrate content in water that had percolated below the root zone was completed along with data analysis and summarization. Real time drainage water volumes are being monitored using automated drainage water samplers. Water draining below the root zone is also being manually collected and nitrate content determined. Water characteristics curves and hydraulic properties for sandy and clay loam soils under soil saturated and unsaturated conditions have also been determined using cutting edge technology. Soil moisture sensors for measuring soil water contents in the root zone continue to be evaluated for their utility in irrigation management and monitoring crop water use. Soil Carbon and Nitrogen and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Climate-smart agriculture needs novel management techniques to enhance soil quality and productivity and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while sustaining crop yield and quality compared with traditional management practices. Researchers in ARS, Sidney, MT have shown that novel management practices, such as no-till legume-nonlegume crop rotation with reduced nitrogen rate, can enhance soil carbon and nitrogen storage, reduce nitrogen fertilizer input and the potential for nitrogen leaching, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional management, such as conventional till with nonlegume crop-fallow on continuous nonlegume with recommended nitrogen rate.

1. Fertilizer N inputs determined for biomass feedstock in a semi-arid environment. Renewable fuel feedstocks help offset demand for petroleum-based energy resources. Switchgrass, a warm-season perennial grass, has been utilized as feedstock for lingo-cellulosic ethanol production and direct energy via combustion, but little is known about switchgrass potential in the northern Great Plains or the impact of N fertilizer application on biomass production in semi-arid environments. ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana initiated a long-term study in 2009 to determine the impact of four fertilizer N rates (0, 25, 50, 75 lb/acre) applied annually on switchgrass production. Biomass from 2011 to 2015 ranged from 0.8 to 5.5 and averaged 2.6 ton/acre across N rates. Overall, fertilized switchgrass produced 2.9 ton/acre biomass and responded to fertilizer N application in three of five years, but response to rates above 25 lb/acre was inconsistent.

2. Novel management substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional management. A meta-analysis of 57 experiments and 225 treatments by ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana showed that net global warming potential (GWP) and greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI) were 66 to 71% lower with no-till than conventional tillage and 168 to 215% lower with perennial than with annual cropping systems, but 41 to 46% greater with crop rotation than with monocropping. Nitrogen fertilization increased GWP and GHGI, but only with N fertilization rates above 150 kg N ha-1. Net GWP and GHGI were 70 to 87% lower in the improved combined management that included no-till, crop rotation/perennial crop, and reduced N rate than the traditional combined management that included conventional till, monocropping/annual crop, and recommended N rate. Producers can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from agroecosystems by adopting novel management practices, such as no-till, crop rotation, perennial cropping, and reduced N rate.

3. Long-term reduced till with continuous cropping reduces soil carbon and nitrogen losses. A 30-year long-term experiment by ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana on the effects of tillage and crop rotation on soil carbon and nitrogen on land originally converted from grassland showed that no-till or reduced-till continuous cropping resulted in 10-15% loss of pre-cropping soil organic carbon and total nitrogen compared with 30-35% losses with a conventional-tillage, crop-fallow system. The conventional system, however, increased inorganic nitrogen levels compared with no-till continuous cropping system. As soil organic carbon and total N help to improve soil quality and productivity, farmers can reduce their losses by adopting no-till or reduced till with continuous cropping.

4. Crop rotation can enhance soil carbon storage and reduce nitrogen loss. Diversified crop rotations may enhance soil carbon and nitrogen storage compared with monocropping. ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana evaluated the effects of stacked vs. alternate-year crop rotations of cereals, legumes, and oilseed crops with ecological and traditional cultural practices on soil organic carbon and nitrogen balance. Alternate-year crop rotation increased soil organic carbon by 4 to 16% compared with stacked rotation after seven years, regardless of cultural practices. Nitrogen balance based on N inputs and outputs ranged from -39 to -36 kg N ha-1 yr-1 with continuous nonlegume cropping compared to 9 to 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 with crop rotations in both cultural practices. Farmers can increase soil carbon storage by adopting alternate-year rotation and reduce nitrogen loss by using diversified crop rotations compared with monocropping.

5. No-till soybean as a component of a diverse irrigated sugar beet-based cropping system. Food-grade soybean is a potential alternative crop that could provide a relatively high return while diversifying the system. However, it is a host to the same Rhizoctonia solani pathogen that causes root and crown rot in sugar beet and is usually not recommended as a crop preceding sugar beet. With developments in Rhizoctionia-resistant sugar beet hybrids and chemical control practices, the advantages of adding soybean to a sugar beet cropping system might be realized while still controlling the risk of disease. ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana completed a 7-year cropping systems study in FY2016 in which it was found that, in an average growing season, sugar yield was 16% higher when sugar beet was grown following no-till soybean in a three-year rotation with a cereal grain (corn or barley) compared to sugar beet rotated with barley alone. Sugar beet 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. Rhizoctonia root and crown rot was not observed to be greater when soybean was included in the rotation than when it was not. This provides sugar beet growers the option to diversify their cropping system using a low-input crop that provides a favorable economic return. Benefits include lower overall fertilizer inputs, lower tillage/labor costs and enhanced soil quality.

6. Viability of no-tillage and reduced tillage practices in sugar beet production. A 4-year study of no-tillage (NT), shallow tillage (ST; 4-inches) and deep tillage (DT; 12-inches) was conducted by ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana. Results show that three of four years neither sugar beet yield nor root quality was significantly impacted by the DT relative to both NT and ST. Findings will potentially motivate sugar beet producers in the region and elsewhere in the world to consider NT and reduced tillage systems rather than using costly and time consuming conventional tillage practices (i.e., DT). Using NT or reduced tillage practices will save producers money due to reduction in input costs while still maintaining profitability and quality compared to conventional practices.

Collaborative research continued between ARS scientist in Sidney, MT and Fort Valley State University, an 1890 institute in GA, on the effects of cover crop and nitrogen rates on soil carbon and nitrogen under bioenergy perennial grasses. The research was targeted to small landholders and minority producers. Results showed that elephant grass with cover crop and 100 kg N ha-1 increased soil organic carbon and total N by 9 to 20%, but energycane with cover crop and 100 kg N ha-1 increased soil nitrate-nitrogen by 31-45 % compared with other treatments. Producers can enhance soil carbon and nitrogen storage and reduce the potential for nitrogen leaching by using elephant grass with cover crop with reduced nitrogen rate compared with other treatments.

Review Publications
Sainju, U.M. 2016. A global meta-analysis on the impact of management practices on net global warming potential and greenhouse gas intensity from cropland soils. PLoS One. 11(2): e0148527. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148527.
Sainju, U.M., Singh, H.P., Singh, B.P. 2015. Cover crop effects on soil carbon and nitrogen under bioenergy sorghum crops. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 70(6):410-417. doi:10.2489/jswc.70.6.410.
Barsotti, J.L., Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Miller, Z.J., Hatfield, P.G. 2016. Sheep grazing enhances coarse relative to microbial organic carbon in dryland cropping systems. Sustainable Agriculture Research. 5(2):1-14. doi:10.5539/sar.v5n2p1.
Jabro, J.D., Iversen, W.M., Stevens, W.B., Evans, R.G., Mikha, M.M., Allen, B.L. 2016. Physical and hydraulic properties of a sandy loam soil under zero, shallow and deep tillage practices. Soil & Tillage Research. 159: 67–72.
Sainju, U.M. 2016. Can novel management practice improve soil and environmental quality and sustain crop yield simultaneously? PLoS One. 11(2): e0149005. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149005.
Ghimire, R., Lamichhane, S., Acharya, B., Bista, P., Sainju, U.M. 2016. Tillage, crop residue, and nutrient management effects on soil organic carbon sequestration in rice-based cropping systems: a review. Journal of Integrative Agriculture. 15:60346-60347. doi:10.1016/S2095-3119(16)61337-0.
Jabro, J.D. 2016. Caring for soil improves human health. Advances in Plants and Agriculture Journal. 3(3): 00098. doi:10.15406/apar.2016.03.00098.
Oblath, E.A., Isbell, T.A., Berhow, M.A., Allen, B., Archer, D., Brown, J., Gesch, R.W., Hatfield, J.L., Jabro, J.D., Kiniry, J.R., Long, D.S. 2016. Development of near-infrared spectroscopy calibrations to measure quality characteristics in intact Brassicaceae germplasm. Industrial Crops and Products. 89:52-58.
Long, D.S., Young, F.L., Schillinger, W.F., Reardon, C.L., Williams, J.D., Allen, B.L., Pan, W., Wysocki, D.J. 2016. Development of dryland oilseed production systems in northwestern region of the USA. BioEnergy Research. 9:412-429.
Sainju, U.M., Allen, B.L., Caesar, T., Lenssen, A.W. 2015. Dryland soil carbon and nitrogen after thirty years of tillage and cropping sequence. Agronomy Journal. 107(5):1822–1830. doi:10.2134/agronj15.0106.
Sainju, U.M. 2015. Comparison of net global warming potential and greenhouse gas intensity affected by management practices in two dryland cropping sites. Journal of Environmental Protection. 6:1042-1056. doi:10.4236/jep.2015.69092.
Stevens, W.B., Sainju, U.M., Caesar, T., Iversen, W.M. 2015. Malt barley yield and quality affected by irrigation, tillage, crop rotation, and nitrogen fertilization. Agronomy Journal. 107(6):2107-2119. doi:10.2134/agronj15.0027
Wang, J., Quanquan, L., Rong-Rong, C., Wen-Zhao, L., Sainju, U.M. 2015. Soil carbon dioxide emissions in response to precipitation frequency in the Loess Plateau, China. Applied Soil Ecology. 96:288–295. doi:10.1016/j.apsoil.2015.08.026.
Byrd, S.A., Rowland, D.L., Bennett, J., Zotarelli, L., Wright, D., Alva, A.K. 2015. The relationship between sap flow and commercial soil water sensor readings in irrigated potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) production. American Journal of Potato Research. doi:10.1007/s12230-015-9471-7.
Jabro, J.D., Iversen, W.M. 2015. Nondestructive analysis of three-dimensional objects using a fluid displacement method. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 79:1289-1292. doi:10.2136/sssaj2015.06.0215.