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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

2017 Annual Report


Objectives
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)


Approach
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
Objective 1: The cover crop mixture field study is complete, and results have been submitted for publication. Soil samples from the rain-out shelter study are being collected annually to determine the effects of the experimental treatments compared to baseline conditions. The experiment is expected to continue for two more years. Soil, vegetation, and greenhouse gas measurements were conducted on Phase III of the integrated crop-livestock study. Baseline soil samples were processed and analyzed, while greenhouse gas outcomes were analyzed and summarized. Relevant information was shared with collaborators involved in USDA-NIFA grant project, IPICL (Improving Production with Integrated Crop Livestock Systems). The Bioenergy Cropping Study was continued as planned. Soil samples collected from the Bioenergy Cropping Study in 2015 were processed and soil chemical analyses were completed. Bioenergy feedstock simulations were completed for North Dakota and were used in life-cycle analyses, which have been published. Initial simulations have been completed for Montana and South Dakota. Initial economic analyses have been completed for the Mandan, North Dakota long-term experiments for presentation at professional and stakeholder meetings, and two manuscripts are in preparation. Objective 2: Soil samples were collected, processed, and analyzed from four paired experimental treatments at Mandan, North Dakota. Data over the three year sampling period were analyzed and summarized for presentation at professional meetings. Economic analysis for the Area 4 farm rotation treatments and the cover crop study were completed and combined with soil sampling results to provide initial tradeoff results for presentation at professional and stakeholder meetings. Objective 3: Results for long-term effects on soil properties were published for two long-term experiments, with three additional manuscripts in preparation. Results for long-term effects on water use for the Soil Quality Management study have been prepared for submission. In addition, a manuscript utilizing long-term soil C for simulation model calibration was submitted for publication. Objective 4: Baseline soil, vegetation, and greenhouse gas assessments were conducted at field- and/or plot-scale locations for the Northern Plains Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network Common Experiment. Laboratory assessments of soil properties were initiated, and collected data were summarized. Outcomes were used to appropriately block assigned treatments for the plot-scale experiment.


Accomplishments
1. Sampling depth confounds soil acidification outcomes. Low soil pH can affect herbicide persistence, decrease nutrient availability, and contribute to metal toxicity, all of which can compromise crop production. In the northern Great Plains, surface sampling depths of 0-6” or 0-8” are suggested for testing soil pH. Soil acidification, however, is often most pronounced nearer to the soil surface. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota quantified soil pH change at three depths in two long-term dryland cropping studies and found sampling depth to be an important confounding factor affecting pH outcomes. Significant differences existed between sampling depths for both final soil pH and pH change in both studies. Final pH values were higher (and pH changes smaller) as sampling depth increased. Findings from this evaluation suggest the regionally-recommended sampling depths of up to 8” may be too deep for early detection of surface acidification. Adoption of surface sampling depths less than 3” is recommended for testing soil pH in the northern Great Plains.

2. Aligning land use with land potential. Contemporary agricultural land use is dominated by an emphasis on provisioning services by applying energy-intensive inputs through relatively uniform production systems across variable landscapes. This approach to agricultural land use is not sustainable. Achieving sustainable use of agricultural land should instead focus on the application of innovative management systems that provide multiple ecosystem services on lands with varying inherent qualities. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota led a group of USDA and university scientists to explore the potential of integrated agricultural systems (IAS) to improve efficient use of agricultural land. Sustainable deployment of IAS on agricultural land involves placing the ‘right enterprise’ at the ‘right intensity’ at the ‘right time’ on the ‘right location’, with the inherent attributes of location informing management decisions associated with other variables. Adoption of IAS could result in a transition towards multi-functional agricultural landscapes, improved delivery of multiple ecosystem services, and ultimately, a more sustainable agriculture.

3. Adaptive nutrient management best course for integrated crop-livestock systems. Efficient use of plant nutrients serves as a defining attribute to concurrently achieve production and environmental goals in integrated crop-livestock systems. Unfortunately, there is a lack of published findings on soil nutrient dynamics for integrated systems, particularly in semiarid regions. To address this need, ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota conducted a study to determine effects of residue and grazing management on soil nitrate and available phosphorus over a 12-year period within an integrated crop-livestock systems experiment. Residue management had no effect on soil nitrate or phosphorus for any year, implying no accumulation of either nutrient under grazing compared to cropping. Similarly, no differences in soil nitrate or phosphorus were observed across grazed sampling zones. Soil nutrients, however, increased or fluctuated greatly over the 12 year period, suggesting a need for adaptive nutrient management. Management interventions targeting nutrient conservation, such as adjusting fertilizer rates in the spring and seeding cover crops in late summer, may improve nutrient use efficiency in integrated crop-livestock systems.

4. Perennial biofeedstocks improve soil, increase stability. Understanding how perennial herbaceous biofeedstocks alter soil properties, and in turn, how such alterations affect ecosystem services is essential for the development and adoption of improved management practices to promote multifunctional agricultural landscapes. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota quantified changes to soil properties resulting from different perennial biofeedstocks at five sites in central and western North Dakota over a 5-yr period. Perennial biofeedstocks induced changes in soil properties over the study period, with substantial declines in available phosphorus (P) at sites with high initial P and modest increases in soil organic carbon (SOC) at sites with low initial SOC. Accordingly, results highlighted the value of perennial biofeedstocks to remediate nutrient-laden and/or degraded soils. In contrast, other soil properties changed minimally (electrical conductivity) or not at all (soil pH). Such resistance to change can have important implications for continued soil function, and can confer a period of stability against a backdrop of increased salinity and acidification for rainfed cropping systems in the Northern Great Plains.

5. Condensed tannins in livestock feed affect manure nutrient excretion. The effects of condensed tannins on N dynamics in ruminants have been a topic of research for some time, but much less work has focused on their impacts on other nutrients in manure. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota conducted a study to determine if sericea lespedeza (a condensed tannin source) would affect concentrations of nutrients in manure and patterns of total excretion when offered with alfalfa to sheep. With sericea lespedeza additions, average daily manure production increased linearly. Concentrations of several nutrients in manure, total output of these nutrients, and ratios of nutrient outputs to feed inputs were significantly affected by the amount of sericea lespedeza offered in the feed. This study suggests that dietary tannins, found in forages like sericea lespedeza, can alter the concentrations, total excretion rates and throughput efficiency of nutrients in manure. These results may be used to help livestock producers and land managers improve nutrient use efficiency and reduce loss of nutrients to the environment.

6. Canola-derived jet fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions and fossil energy demand. Commercial aviation has established goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and renewable fuels have been identified as a way to help meet these goals. Collaborative research including ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota, Michigan Technological University, and the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge, Massachusetts used conducted life cycle assessment using crop simulation modeling and economic analysis for renewable jet fuel produced from canola grown in North Dakota. Results showed that net greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 42-114%, and fossil energy demand could be reduced by 43-133% relative to conventional jet fuel. These results are useful to crop producers, biofuel and aviation industry, and regulatory agencies in identifying fuels and feedstocks with greatest potential for meeting sustainability goals.

7. Water footprint of rapeseed-derived jet fuel. Rapeseed is a crop that can be used to make renewable jet fuel. However, large-scale biofuel production could affect water supply and quality. In collaborative research including scientists at Michigan Technological University, the U.S. Department of Transportation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and ARS at Mandan, North Dakota, life cycle water footprint was analyzed for rapeseed jet fuel production scenarios in North Dakota. The analysis included different categories of water use. Results showed that 66-68% of the water footprint is the water used in growing rapeseed and comes from rainfall, and only four percent of the footprint is from surface or groundwater sources. The results are important for policy makers and biofuel industry to understand how producing jet fuel from rapeseed might affect water supply and quality across a broad region.


Review Publications
Reeves, J.L., Liebig, M.A. 2016. Soil pH and exchangeable cation responses to tillage and fertilizer in dryland cropping systems. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 47(21):2396-2404. doi:10.1080/00103624.2016.1243706.
Reeves, J.L., Liebig, M.A. 2016. Depth matters: Soil pH and dilution effects in the northern Great Plains. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 80:1424-1427.
Liebig, M.A., Wang, G.J., Aberle, E., Eriksmoen, E., Nyren, P., Staricka, J., Nichols, K. 2017. Soil response to perennial herbaceous biofeedstocks under rainfed conditions in the northern Great Plains, USA. Geoderma. 290:10-18.
Shi, R., Ukaew, S., Archer, D.W., Lee, J., Pearlson, M., Lewis, K.C., Shonnard, D.R. 2017. Life cycle water footprint analysis for rapeseed derived jet fuel in North Dakota. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. 5:3845-3854. doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02956.
Liebig, M.A., Herrick, J.E., Archer, D.W., Dobrowolski, J., Duiker, S.W., Franzluebbers, A.J., Hendrickson, J.R., Mitchell, R., Mohamed, A., Russell, J., Strickland, T.C. 2017. Aligning land use with land potential: The role of integrated agriculture. Agricultural and Environmental Letters. 2:170007.
Ryschawy, J., Liebig, M.A., Kronberg, S.L., Archer, D.W., Hendrickson, J.R. 2017. Integrated crop-livestock management effects on soil quality dynamics in a semiarid region: A typology of soil change over time. Applied and Environmental Soil Science. doi:10.1155/2017/3597416.
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.
Weyers, S.L., Archer, D.W., Forcella, F., Gesch, R.W., Johnson, J.M. 2017. Can reducing tillage and increasing crop diversity benefit grain and forage production? Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi: 10.1017/S1742170517000187.
Weyers, S.L., Archer, D.W., Forcella, F., Gesch, R.W., Johnson, J.M. 2017. Strip-tillage reduces productivity in organically managed grain and forage cropping systems in the Upper Midwest, USA. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. doi: 10.1017/S1742170517000084.
Ukaew, S., Shi, R., Lee, J., Archer, D.W., Pearlson, M., Lewis, K., Bregni, L., Shonnard, D.R. 2016. Full chain life cycle assessment of greenhouse gases and energy demand for canola-derived jet fuel in North Dakota, United States. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. 4(5):2771-2779. doi:10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b00276.
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.
Wick, A., Berti, M., Lawley, Y., Liebig, M.A. 2017. Integration of annual and perennial cover crops for improving soil health. IN: M. Al-Kaisi and B. Lowery, editors. Soil Health and Intensification of Agroecosystems. San Diego, CA:Academic Press. p. 127-150.