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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #425378

Research Project: Sustainable Agricultural Systems for the Northern Great Plains

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

2016 Annual Report

OBJECTIVE 1. Develop and evaluate management strategies for sustainable use of agricultural production, including integrated crop - livestock systems. Expansion: Identify management practices that confer resilience to external stressors. • Sub-objective 1.1 Sustainably intensify dryland agricultural production systems by including cover crops. • Sub-objective 1.2 Sustainably intensify dryland agricultural systems by integrating crops and livestock. • Sub-objective 1.3 Sustainably intensify dryland agricultural systems by including biofuel-focused cropping systems. OBJECTIVE 2. Determine economic, environmental and production tradeoffs of improved soil management practices in the northern Great Plains. • Sub-objective 2.1 Quantify ecosystem services within dryland agricultural production systems. • Sub-objective 2.2 Determine tradeoffs between production, economic, and ecosystem service outcomes to sustainably intensify dryland agricultural production systems. OBJECTIVE 3. Develop soil management practices to enhance cropping systems resilience. (NP 216 C5) OBJECTIVE 4. As part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in Northern Great Plains Region, use the Northern Plains LTAR site to improve the observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network, to support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality in agroecosystems characteristic of the Northern Great Plains region, as per the LTAR site responsibilities and other information outlined in the 2012 USDA Long- LTAR Network Request for Information (RFI), and the LTAR Shared Research Strategy, a living document that serves as a roadmap for LTAR implementation. (NP 216 C5)

The concept of sustainable intensification or increasing food production on the same area while minimizing environmental impacts and increasing the flow of ecosystem services has been advocated as a means to address the challenge of greater agricultural production demands. This project will fill significant information gaps related to genotype by environment by management (GxExM) interactions in sustainably intensifying agricultural production systems on the northern Great Plains. We will: 1) evaluate three different methods to intensify current cropping systems common in the northern Great Plains including (i) inclusion of cover crops; (ii) integration of crop-livestock systems; and (iii) biofuel focused cropping systems; 2) quantify ecosystem services of dryland agriculture production systems and associated tradeoffs among production, economic and environmental outcomes; and 3) develop guidelines for implementing management practices which enhance soil function and increase agroecosystem resilience. Successful conclusion of this project will provide producers, policy makers and government agencies with potential methods to sustainably intensify dryland agricultural production systems in the northern Great Plains. The research will contribute expanded research databases for model validation and prediction of greenhouse gas flux and soil carbon stock change. The research will also contribute to key ARS collaborations including the LTAR network, GRACEnet, REAP, and MAGGnet.

Progress Report
Subobjective 1.1 - Formulating cover crop mixtures requires knowledge of how the proportion of species in a seed mixture affects productivity and weed invasion. An experiment with 15 mixtures and monocultures of proso millet, triticale, red clover, and forage radish was established in spring and late-summer at Mandan, ND in 2014 and 2015. Mixtures yielded more forage and had less weed biomass than the average of monocultures when planted in spring. Yields of mixtures and monocultures were very low and variable when planted in late summer probably because of dry soil conditions and erratic rainfall. Mixtures with more equal proportions of species in the seed mixture, however, did not yield more biomass or have fewer weeds than other mixtures. The final year of data collection is 2016. The goal of the rainout shelter project (Sub-objective 1.1) is to determine if seeding cover crops during a drought year can impact annual crop yields if that drought continues for a second year. Last year, plots were planted to a 2 or 4 species cover crop combination or spring wheat and irrigated at 75% of normal growing season irrigation. All plots were seeded to spring wheat this year, with plots irrigated at 75% and 100% of growing season precipitation. Spring wheat yields will be collected this year and comparisons will be made between cover crop and annual crop treatments under normal and drought conditions. Following a statistical power analysis, determination on continuing the project for an additional two years will be made. Two studies were implemented to further inform decisions on including cover crops in dryland cropping systems. The Cover Crop Altered Precipitation study is designed to show how different cover crops perform in monocultures and in mixes under variable moisture conditions. Baseline soil cores were taken, soil moisture sensors were installed to collect hourly measurements of volumetric water content, and weekly leaf area measurements are being collected during the growing season. Effects of weed pressure are being monitored by maintaining weedy and weed-free areas within each treatment, and pollinator visitation measurements are being collected on a weekly basis. The Organic Transition Study is designed to assess the ability of different grazed and ungrazed cover-cropping strategies to reduce weed seed-bank, improve soil health, and provide pollinator forage. Baseline soil cores were taken in mid-May. An additional set of soil cores were taken at 10 cm depth to assess baseline weed seed bank. Cover crops were planted between June 16 and June 20, 2016. However, seeding rates were below target rates for all cover crop treatments. Subobjective 1.2 – Implementation of new treatments (phase III) in the integrated crop livestock study began in spring 2015. Additional modifications were implemented in 2016 to divide the study fields and re-randomize treatments to result in four replicates for each treatment. This will improve statistical power of the study in detecting treatment effects. Subobjective 1.3 - Soil samples collected from the Bioenergy Cropping Systems study in 2015 were processed and soil chemical analyses were initiated. Enterprise budgets were constructed for the first 6 years of the Bioenergy Cropping Systems study, and initial analysis was completed on effects of crop rotation and residue harvest on crop productivity and economic returns. A manuscript reporting the results is in preparation. Subobjective 2.1 - Soil samples were collected, processed, and analyzed from four paired experimental treatments at Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) and 11 on-farm sites in Emmons County, North Dakota. Preliminary findings were presented at the Eurosoil 2016 meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. Subobjective 2.2. – Enterprise budgets were constructed for the Bioenergy Cropping Systems Study (subobjective 1.3), the phase II of the Integrated Crops and Livestock study, the Soil Quality Management study, and the field-scale long-term rotations at the Area 4 Cooperative Research Farm. Initial results of these analyses have been presented to producers at field tours and at the Research Results and Technology conference in Bismarck, ND, in February 2016, showing the relative profitability of a wide range of dryland production systems. Results for the Area 4 Farm analysis were presented at the ASA-CSSA-SSSA annual meeting in November 2015 in Minneapolis, MN, and a manuscript reporting the results is in preparation. Subobjective 4.1 - Designs were established for ‘aspirational’ and ‘business as usual’ treatments for the Northern Plains Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network Common Experiment using input from NGPRL scientists, staff, and Customer Focus Group members. Locations for plot- and field-scale treatments were identified on the Area IV SCD Cooperative Research Farm. Baseline assessments were initiated for field-scale treatments. In 2015 the NGPRL became one of the 12 sites of the Wind Erosion Research Network. Wind Erosion Research Network sites located on USDA land are integrated with the Long Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network. Baseline soils and vegetation data were collected for this site in 2015 and dust flux data has been collected monthly, vegetation data has been collected quarterly, and wind and climate data have been streaming permanently to a data repository at the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range.

1. Cover crop production and nutrient uptake. Cover crops can improve nutrient-use efficiency, reduce pests, and increase yields and yield stability, yet documenting these potential benefits in semi-arid regions remains elusive. USDA-ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota documented agroecosystem responses to late-summer seeded cover crops under no-till management over a three year period. Aboveground cover crop biomass was highly variable throughout the study (86-1276 lb/ac), and was strongly affected by precipitation received within two weeks of cover crop seeding. Cover crops reduced the amount of available soil nitrogen (N) in the spring, particularly when biomass production the preceding year was abundant. Findings suggest late-summer seeded cover crops may provide forage production and N conservation within semi-arid cropping systems, but achieving such outcomes consistently depends on timely precipitation after cover crop seeding.

2. National assessment of crop diversity. Anecdotal accounts of declining crop diversity in the U.S. have raised concerns about potential negative impacts of an increasingly homogenous U.S. cropping system. USDA-ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, Morris, Minnesota along with collaborators at North Dakota State University and Kansas State University used National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) data to evaluate changes in crop diversity at the county level across the U.S. Results showed that national crop diversity has declined over the past 34 years but there were regional differences in crop diversity. Some areas, for example central North Dakota and coastal South Carolina, had increased crop diversity but crop diversity declined in counties adjoining the Corn Belt. Overall, more counties seemed to be shifting to lower diversity than to higher diversity. This research was among the first to measure crop diversity changes across the entire U.S., and establishes a benchmark for assessing future progress.

3. Modeling to explore sustainability of agricultural systems. In designing agricultural production systems, a goal is to identify systems that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. However, agricultural production systems are composed of multiple components that interact in complex ways, which can lead to unexpected and undesirable effects. A system dynamics modelling environment was used to capture and model linkages and interactions between components for three distinct production systems: crop only, livestock only, and integrated crop-livestock systems. Model results showed that, given the interactions identified, crop only system had the greatest potential for sustainability. The model provides a tool to help understand how different aspects of agricultural production interact, which can be used to design more sustainable systems.

Review Publications
Hossard, L., Archer, D.W., Bertrand, M., Colnenne-David, C., Debaeke, P., Ernfors, M., Jeuffroy, M., Munier-Jolain, N., Nilsson, C., Sanford, G.R., Snapp, S.S., Jensen, E.S., Makowski, D. 2016. A meta-analysis of maize and wheat yields in low-input vs. conventional and organic systems. Agronomy Journal. 108:1155-1167. doi:10.2134/agronj2015.0512
Malik, R.S., Seymour, M., French, R.J., Kirkegaard, J.A., Lawes, R.A., Liebig, M.A. 2015. Dynamic crop sequencing in Western Australian cropping systems. Crop and Pasture Science. 66:594-609.
Aquilar, J., Gramig, G.G., Hendrickson, J.R., Archer, D.W., Forcella, F., Liebig, M.A. 2015. Crop species diversity changes in the United States: 1978-2012. PLoS One. 10(8):e0136580.
Andrango, G.C., Bergtold, J., Archer, D.W., Flora, C. 2016. Assessing extension and outreach education levels for biofuel feedstock production in the Western United States. Open Agriculture Journal. 1:29-36.
Halvorson, J.J., Schmidt, M.A., Hagerman, A.E., Gonzalez, J.M., Liebig, M.A. 2015. Reduction of soluble nitrogen and mobilization of plant nutrients in soils from U.S. northern Great Plains agroecosystems by phenolic compounds. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 94:211-221.
Halvorson, J.J., Liebig, M.A., Archer, D.W., West, M.S., Tanaka, D.L. 2016. Impacts of crop sequence and tillage management on soil carbon stocks in south-central North Dakota, USA. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 80:1003-1010. doi:10.2136/sssaj2015.09.0331.
Liebig, M.A., Franzluebbers, A.J., Alvarez, C., Chiesa, T.D., Lewczuk, N., Pineiro, G., Posse, G., Yahdjian, L., Grace, P., Cabral, O.R., Martin-Neto, L., Rodrigues, R.R., Amiro, B., Angers, D., Hao, X., Oelbermann, M., Tenuta, M., Munkholm, L.J., Regina, K., Cellier, P., Ehrhardt, F., Richard, G., Dechow, R., Agus, F., Widiarta, N., Spink, J., Berti, A., Grignani, C., Mazzoncini, M., Orsini, R., Roggero, P., Seddaiu, G., Tei, F., Ventrella, D., Vitali, G., Kishimoto-Mo, A., Shirato, Y., Sudo, S., Shin, J., Schipper, L., Save, R., Leifeld, J., Spadavecchia, L., Yeluripati, J., Del Grosso, S.J., Rice, C., Sawchik, J. 2016. MAGGnet: An international network to foster mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gases. Carbon Management. doi:10.1080/17583004.2016.1180586.
Walters, J.P., Archer, D.W., Sassenrath, G.F., Hendrickson, J.R., Hanson, J.D., Halloran, J.M., Vadas, P.A., Alarcon, V.J. 2016. Exploring agricultural production systems and their fundamental components with system dynamics modeling. Ecological Modeling. 333:51-65.
Webb, N.P., Herrick, J.E., Van Zee, J.W., Courtright, E.M., Hugenholtz, C.H., Zobeck, T.M., Okin, G., Barchyn, T.E., Billings, B.J., Boyd, R., Clingan, S., Cooper, B., Duniway, M., Derner, J.D., Fox, F.A., Havstad, K.M., Heilman, P., Laplante, V.K., Ludwig, N., Metz, L.J., Nearing, M.A., Norfleet, M., Pierson Jr, F.B., Sanderson, M.A., Sharratt, B.S., Steiner, J.L., Tatarko, J., Tedela, N., Toledo, D.N., Unnasch, R., Van Pelt, R.S., Wagner, L.E. 2016. The National Wind Erosion Research Network: Building a standardized long-term data resource for aeolian research, modeling and land management. Aeolian Research. 22:23-36.
Cannayen, I., Tumuluru, J.S., Keshwani, D., Schmer, M.R., Archer, D.W., Liebig, M.A., Halvorson, J.J., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L. 2016. Biomass bale stack and field outlet locations assessment for efficient infield logistics. Biomass and Bioenergy. 91:217-226.
Carter, B.P., Galloway, M.T., Morris, C.F., Weaver, G.L., Carter, A.H. 2015. The case for water activity as a specification for wheat tempering and flour production. Cereal Foods World. 60:166-170.
Halvorson, J.J., Belesky, D.P., West, M.S. 2016. Inhibition of forage seed germination by leaf litter extracts of overstory hardwoods used in silvopastoral systems. Agroforestry Systems. doi:10.1007/s10457-016-9908-0.