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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

2017 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. Subobjective 1.1. Develop diverse sprinkler irrigated cropping systems that include bioenergy and legume crops to improve farm economic and environmental sustainability by enhancing system productivity and input efficiency. Subobjective 1.2. Evaluate the effect of crop residue removal in sprinkler irrigated cropping systems on cropping system productivity, C and N sequestration and microbial biomass and activity. Subobjective 1.3. Evaluate the effect of tillage practices on sprinkler irrigated cropping system productivity, C and N sequestration, microbial biomass and activity, crop water productivity, N use efficiency and soil physical properties. 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 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. 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
Objective 1, Irrigated Cropping Systems: The 2016 growing season marked the completion of the Eastern Agricultural Research Center (EARC) (Sidney) irrigated cropping systems diversity/residue removal study. Originally scheduled to terminate in FY16 (following the 2015 growing season), this study was extended one year because severe hail occurred in 2015. Weather in 2016 was more favorable and produced reliable results confirming conclusions from previous years that sugar beet in a diverse rotation made with barley and soybean yielded 10% more than in a two-year rotation with barley. Removal of cereal crop residue two years prior to the sugar beet phase had little effect on sugar beet yield. The fourth year of the Nesson Valley (North Dakota) cropping systems study was completed in FY17. Sugar beet grown without preplant tillage (i.e., direct seeded) yielded similarly to when conventional preplant tillage practices were used. In FY16, 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. This collaboration continued in FY17. Research evaluating the effects of tillage systems on soil physical properties in the Nesson Valley irrigated cropping systems study continued as planned. Soil physical and hydraulic properties in a corn-soybean rotation under no-till and tilled practices were measured. The fourth 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. Wireless real-time 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. Objective 2, Biological Control of Crop Diseases: Progress related to disease management was limited due to critical position vacancies in plant pathology and soil microbiology. However, dryland crop disease (Fusarium Head Blight in durum wheat) and irrigated crop disease (Rhizoctonia root and crown rot in sugarbeet; Fusarium Head Blight in malting barley) intensities are being evaluated in ARS cropping systems studies through collaboration with Montana State University and North Dakota State University partners. Objective 3, Dryland Cropping Systems: Crop sequence treatments 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-, 2-, 3- and 4-yr no-till rotations. All planting, soil sampling, fertilizer application, and harvest activities were completed in a timely manner. FY2017 was the final year of the study (3032-13210-006-02R) entitled “Accelerated Development of Commercial Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel from Redesigned Oil Seed Feedstock Supply Chains” (Department of Energy), with project funding end date of July 31, 2017. Soil carbon levels and greenhouse gas emissions monitoring continued in dryland cropping systems studies as planned for FY17. Related research on the contribution of perennial and annual crop roots to C sequestration in dryland cropping systems is ongoing but nearing completion. Results to date show that perennial crops have greater root biomass than annual crops, contributing to increased soil carbon and nitrogen sequestration. In annual cropping systems where above-ground biomass is harvested for biofuel feedstock or as livestock feed, a mixture of legume and non-legume winter cover crops and a moderate level of nitrogen fertilization can replace part of the crop residue removed and increase soil carbon and nitrogen compared to when cover crops and nitrogen fertilization are not used.

1. Jet fuel from 18 cool-season oilseed feedstocks evaluated in a semi-arid environment. Renewable jet fuel feedstocks can potentially offset the demand for petroleum-based transportation resources and diversify cropping systems. However, identifying suitable feedstock supplies remains a primary constraint to adoption. ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana conducted a 4-yr study to investigate the yield potential of six winter- (Brassica napus, Brassica rapa, Camelina sativa) and 12 spring-types (Brassica carinata, Brassica juncea, B. napus, B. Rapa, C. sativa, Sinapis alba) of cool-season oilseed feedstocks in eastern Montana dryland cropping systems. A camelina variety named ‘Joelle’ was the only fall-seeded variety that survived the typically harsh northern Great Plains winters. Hail storms caused up to 95% yield loss in spring camelina types in 2 of 4 years in the study, but the fall-seeded ‘Joelle’ was harvested before the hail occurred showing the benefit of an early maturing crop in regions prone to late season hail. Identification of this winter-hardy variety will provide a beneficial option for diversifying dryland cropping systems and mitigating the risk of crop failure. Across all species and varieties, seed yields ranged from about 200 to 2000 kg/ha. Overall, winter camelina (1400 kg/ha) in addition to spring types of B. napus (1900 kg/ha), B. carinata (1300 kg/ha), and camelina (1800 kg/ha) showed the best potential for jet fuel feedstocks in the semi-arid northern Great Plains, USA.

2. No-till soybean as a reliable alternative crop in for diversifying irrigated sugar beet cropping systems. Sugar beet production in the Missouri River Basin was dominated by two-year sugar beet-small grain rotations for many years but researchers and agronomists have recently emphasized the need to diversify these systems to reduce weed and disease problems. Alternative crop options are limited in the short growing season of the northern Great Plains. ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana recently showed that food-grade soybean is a potential alternative crop that could provide a relatively high return while diversifying the system. In a 7-year study, irrigated soybean yield was consistently around 50 bushels per acre when planted no-till into barley stubble or following corn after stover removal. Baling barley straw before planting soybean did not affect yield compared to planting into full barley residue; however, soybean yield was reduced by 10% when planted into full corn residue rather than after stover removal. This research shows that food-grade soybean provides sugar beet growers with an excellent low-input alternative crop to help diversify their cropping system. Benefits include consistent and favorable economic return, lower overall fertilizer inputs, lower tillage/labor costs, and enhanced soil quality.

3. Enhanced root biomass with intermediate wheatgrass. When perennial grass aboveground biomass is removed as bioenergy feedstock, roots become the main source of carbon input for soil carbon sequestration but information on root biomass and root/shoot ratios of perennial grasses is lacking in the semi-arid northern Great Plains environment. ARS scientists in Sidney, Montana reported that intermediate wheatgrass had greater root biomass than smooth bromegrass and switchgrass. They found that root biomass and root/shoot ratio were fourteen and eight times, respectively, greater in perennial grasses than annual spring wheat. In situations where aboveground biomass is removed, intermediate wheatgrass can provide more carbon and nitrogen inputs for soil carbon and nitrogen sequestration compared to smooth bromegrass, switchgrass or annual small grain crops.

4. An innovative passive capillary lysimeter for measuring deep water percolation and nitrate leaching. Preventing nitrate transport through the soil profile and leaching into groundwater begins with effective water management practices but quantifying the effects of these practices on water and nitrate movement is challenging. ARS scientists in Sidney, Montana developed a novel, state-of-the-art automated passive capillary water lysimeter (PCAP) which features a collection system that is more durable and sophisticated than previously reported designs. This innovative lysimeter allows real-time monitoring and estimating of drainage water volume and flux and operates without the need of costly and time-consuming manual support methods. This automated design provides a more efficient and cost effective means of estimating nitrate leaching than other designs. Using this technology, researchers can more accurately determine the effects of management practices on fertilizer and irrigation water efficiencies. Information derived from this research using these lysimeters will help farmers optimize crop yield while avoiding groundwater contamination.

5. Legume-based crop rotations reduce nitrogen loss. Inefficient nitrogen use by crops results in increased soil residual nitrogen accumulation which can be lost to the environment through leaching, volatilization, denitrification, and surface runoff. ARS researchers at Sidney, Montana reported that legume-based dryland crop rotations reduced fertilizer nitrogen inputs and residual soil nitrogen available for environmental loss due to increased crop nitrogen uptake and soil nitrogen immobilization compared with nonlegume monocropping, especially in ecologically-based no-tillage cropping systems. Producers can reduce the cost of nitrogen fertilization and reduce environmental nitrogen loss by adopting crop rotations that include both legumes and non-legumes.

Review Publications
Sainju, U.M., Singh, H.P., Singh, B.P. 2017. Soil carbon and nitrogen in response to perennial bioenergy perennial grasses, cover crop, and nitrogen fertilization. Pedosphere. 27(2):223-238.
Sainju, U.M. 2016. Net global warming potential and greenhouse gas intensity. In: Black, C.A., editor. Methods of Soil Analysis. Vol. 1. Madison, WI: Soil Science Society of America. p. 1-9. doi:10.2136/methods-soil.2015.0036.
Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Allen, B.L., Stevens, W.B., Jabro, J.D. 2016. Soil total carbon and crop yield affected by crop rotation and cultural practice. Agronomy Journal. 109(1):1-9. doi:10.2134/agronj2016.07.0402
Sainju, U.M., Singh, H.P., Singh, B.P. 2017. Cover crops for enriching soil carbon and nitrogen under bioenergy sorghum. In: Field, D.J., Morgan, C.L.S., McBratney, A.B., editors. Global Soil Security, Progress in Soil Science. Switzerland: Springer Verlag. p. 181-191. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-43394-3.
Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Allen, B.L., Stevens, W.B., Jabro, J.D. 2017. Soil residual nitrogen under various crop rotations and cultural practices. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science. 180(2):187–198. doi:10.1002/jpln.201600496.
Sainju, U.M., Allen, B.L., Lenssen, A.W., Ghimire, R.P. 2017. Root biomass, root/shoot ratio, and soil water content under perennial grasses with different nitrogen rates. Field Crops Research. 210:183-191. doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2017.05.029.
Negm, A., Jabro, J.D., Provenzano, G. 2017. Assessing the suitability of American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agro-climatology archive to predict daily meteorological variables and reference evapotranspiration in Sicily, Italy. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 244-245:111-121. doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2017.05.022.
Sainju, U.M., Lenssen, A.W., Allen, B.L., Stevens, W.B., Jabro, J.D. 2016. Nitrogen balance in response to dryland crop rotations and cultural practices. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 233:25-32. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2016.08.023.
Jabro, J.D., Stevens, W.B., Iversen, W.M., Allen, B.L., Sainju, U.M. 2016. Suction cup samplers for estimating nitrate-nitrogen in soil water in irrigated sugarbeet production. Soil Science. 7(10):1342-1354. doi:10.4236/jep.2016.710117.
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.
Mikha, M.M., Hergert, G.W., Benjamin, J.G., Jabro, J.D., Nielsen, R.A. 2017. Soil organic carbon and nitrogen in long-term manure management system. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 81:153-165.
Hunter, K.M., Archer, D.W., Gesch, R.W., Vigil, M.F., Hatfield, J.L., Allen, B.L., Jabro, J.D., Kim, S., Meki, M.N., Kiniry, J.R. 2017. Degree days to 50% flowering for 12 cultivars of spring canola-like mustard. Journal of Agriculture and Ecology Research International. 11(4):1-8.
Meisinger, J.J., Delgado, J.A., Alva, A.K. 2017. Nitrate Leaching Management. In R. Lal, editor. Encyclopedia of Soil Science. Encyclopedia of Soil Science. Taylor & Francis, New York, NY. p. 1538-1540.
Collins, H.P., Porter, L., Boydston, R.A., Alva, A.K., Chavez, B. 2016. Petiole, N, P, K concentrations and yield of the potato cultivar Molli from certified organic amendments and fertilizer formulations. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 47(10):1227-1238.
Hansen, N.C., Allen, B.L., Baumhardt, R.L., Lyon, D.J. 2012. Research achievements and adoption of no-till, dryland cropping in the semi-arid US Great Plains. Field Crops Research. 132:196-203.
Fu, X., Wang, J., Sainju, U.M., Liu, W., Fazhu, Z. 2017. Soil carbon fractions in response to long-term crop rotations in the Loess Plateau of China. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 81(3):503-513. doi:10.2136/sssaj2016.04.0122.
Sainju, U.M. 2017. Nitrogen balance in agroecosystems. MethodsX. 4:199-208. doi:10.1016/j.mex.2017.06.001.