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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

2018 Annual Report

Objective 1: Develop strategies to increase production and selected non-provisioning ecosystem services while increasing socio-economic performance of grazing, crop, and integrated crop/livestock systems. Objective 2: Develop options for integrated agricultural systems that reduce production risks, and enhance economic viability and ecosystem services under extreme weather conditions. Objective 3: Assess the effects of management strategies aimed at enhancing ecosystem services on the nutrient content of crop and livestock products. Objective 4: Operate and maintain the Northern Great Plains LTAR network site using technologies and practices agreed upon by the LTAR leadership. Contribute to the LTAR working groups and common experiments as resources allow. Submit relevant data with appropriate metadata to the LTAR Information Ecosystem.

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 different methods to intensify current agricultural systems common in the northern Great Plains; 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
This is the final report for this project. In 2015, consolidation of the three projects at Mandan, North Dakota began by merging the NP212 project 3064-11120-002-00D into this project. In 2018, consolidation continued by merging the NP215 project 3064-21310-002-00D into the current project. Significant accomplishments over the life of the project have been: Development of a cover crop decision aid The Cover Crop Chart; identifying that diverse agricultural systems are complex, but more productive and stable; determining that integrated crop-livestock systems maintain soil quality; determining the price points and supplies of crop residues that can be provided to biorefineries; determining that timely precipitation drives cover crop outcomes; and assessing changes in U.S. crop diversity over a 34 year period on a county by county basis. Progress in the final year of the project: In Objective 1, project initiation was delayed by one year on Sub-objective 1.1, the impact of moisture on cover crops. Therefore, the second iteration of cover crop treatments were put in place in FY2018 and the spring wheat-testing phase will be done in FY2019 under the subsequent research project. Phase III of the Integrated Crop Study was modified slightly to include yearling cattle instead of cows and, the cover crop mix was changed to reduce seed costs and to include more grass, which would improve suitability for grazing and reduce bloat risk. Soil, water, vegetation, and greenhouse gas measurements were conducted on Phase III of the integrated crop-livestock study. Seasonal soil samples were processed and analyzed, while greenhouse gas samples continued to be collected and analyzed. Collected data were summarized and relevant information was shared with collaborators involved in the USDA-Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP), IPICL (Improving Production with Integrated Crop Livestock Systems) (Sub-objective 1.2). Life-cycle analysis is being conducted with collaborators using this data. The Bioenergy Cropping System study was continued as planned. Enterprise budgets have been updated using data from 2010 through 2017. Soil samples were collected from the Bioenergy Cropping Study in Fall 2017. Samples were processed and laboratory analyses were initiated (Sub-objective 1.3). Under Objectives 2, 3 and 4, tradeoffs in crop production, economic returns, and soil organic carbon were analyzed and published using long-term rotation data from the Area 4 farm. In addition, initial short-term tradeoffs between economic returns and soil nitrate from the cover crop study have been analyzed and presented as a keynote presentation at the 2017 Soil Health Conference held in Ames, Iowa. Enterprise budgets have been constructed for the Soil Quality Management, Integrated Crop Livestock, and Bioenergy Cropping System studies (Sub-objective 2.2). Soil samples were collected from the Soil Quality Management Study in Spring 2018. Samples were processed, and laboratory analyses were initiated (Sub-objective 3.1). Soil, vegetation, and greenhouse gas assessments were conducted at field-scale locations for the Northern Plains LTAR Common Experiment. Collected data were summarized (Sub-objective 4.1). There have been 46 journal articles, 2 models and 1 dataset developed over the life of this project. Scientists involved in the project have developed several international collaborations and have presented information from the project at multiple scientific meetings. Scientific outreach has included print media, radio and television interviews, decision aids and producer meetings including an annual field day and a winter workshop.

1. Increasing crop diversity increases economic returns and reduces risk. Increasing crop diversity, growing a larger variety of crops in a rotation, has been proposed to increase sustainability. However, if producers are going to grow a wider variety of crops in rotation, these rotations need to be profitable. In a long-term crop rotation study, ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota showed that crop productivity and economic returns increased with increasing crop diversity, while economic risk decreased. In most cases, increasing crop diversity also increased soil organic carbon, this would allow producers in the region to simultaneously realize economic benefits of $25 to $83 per acre while maintaining or building soil organic carbon.

2. Increasing farmers’ willingness to grow biofuel crops. Oilseed crops such as camelina, carinata, and canola have good properties for bio-based jet fuel. However, farmers need to be willing to grow them. ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota, along with scientists at Kansas State University, Iowa State University, Berlin, Germany, and Ghent, Belgium, identified factors that affected the willingness of farmers in the western U.S. to grow oilseed crops for biofuel. Among the actions that could increase farmers’ willingness to grow oilseeds for biofuel are 1) establishment of nearby crushing facilities and 2) increasing farmer experience with oilseed production. The biofuel industry can use these results to reduce barriers to oilseed production.

3. Water quality tradeoffs in integrated crop-livestock systems. Integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems hold the potential to achieve environmentally sustainable production of crop and livestock products, however, there is a lack of information regarding impacts of integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems on water quality. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota reviewed and summarized published research on water quality outcomes from management practices used in ICL systems in the Northern Great Plains of North America. Some management practices used in ICL systems reduced losses of total suspended solids, nitrogen, and phosphorus in surface runoff and soil leachate. However, other management practices, such as no/reduced tillage, reduced losses of nitrogen, but increased phosphorus losses in runoff. Additionally, practices such as grazing increased total suspended solids, nitrogen, and phosphorus losses in surface runoff and aquatic ecosystems. Summarized results highlighted the importance of considering water quality trade-offs when deploying management practices used in ICL systems and highlighted the need for additional water quality data from ICL systems to further evaluate tradeoffs.

4. Perennial forages important for improving soil health. Adding perennial forages in annual cropping systems can offer significant benefits to agricultural landscapes, but guidance for producers regarding their effective use is lacking in semiarid regions. Specifically, the length of time needed for soil health improvements to occur under perennial forages is unclear. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota evaluate soil responses to perennial grasses, legumes, and grass-legume mixtures over a 5-year period. Relative to annual cropping, perennial forages slowed soil acidification, increased the portion of soil organic matter that is rapidly degradable, and improved soil physical conditions. Soil responses to perennial forages occurred as soon as 2 years after forage establishment but peaked 4 years after establishment. Among perennial forages, intermediate wheatgrass alone or mixed with alfalfa was most effective at improving soil. Outcomes from the study suggest perennial forages can improve soil in semiarid regions, but effects were subtle and generally slow to occur.

5. Perennial forages enhance crop yields. Perennial forages have the potential to diversify annual crop rotations and provide ecological and agronomic benefits. However, little is known about the effects of perennial forages on the yields of the subsequent cash crop in semiarid no-till systems. ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota showed that wheat yields following just 2 years of alfalfa were similar to yields of a fertilized, continuous spring wheat control, and an alfalfa phase of 3 years or more resulted in spring wheat yields greater than the control. An intermediate wheatgrass – alfalfa mixture, grown for 4 years, resulted in comparable yields to the continuous spring wheat control. Yield benefits persisted for at least four years following conversion from perennial forages. Producers in semiarid no-till systems can use these results to develop profitable management strategies for including perennials in annual cropping systems.

6. Alfalfa captures carbon under variable conditions. Carbon sequestration in pastures can be particularly effective given limited soil disturbance, minimal erosion, and continuous carbon input from above- and below-ground biomass during the growing season. Information about carbon sequestration potential from pasture management systems is lacking, particularly in semiarid regions. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota conducted a study from 2009 to 2013 to determine the daily, seasonal and annual carbon budget of hayed alfalfa and grassland. Alfalfa was found to be a moderate carbon sink, whereas grassland was a carbon source. Alfalfa was also found to be highly efficient at capturing carbon in both warm/dry and cool/wet growing seasons. These results are useful to producers in selecting forages that can serve as a nitrogen source while improving soil quality. These results are also useful to policy makers and action agencies assessing the capability of forages to store carbon across a range of weather conditions in a semiarid region.

7. Developing integrated system to assess pastures and rangeland. Currently separate methodologies are used for assessing the ecosystem function (biology, hydrology, soils and livestock production potential) of pastures and rangelands. An integrated grazingland assessment method was developed based on a need to treat both rangeland and pasture livestock production systems as resilient agro-ecological enterprises. Scientists from Mandan, North Dakota, in conjunction with scientists from Texas A&M AgriLife, Virginia Tech, and Noble Foundation, evaluated resilient forage production practices in the U.S. and provided ways to assess and monitor these grazinglands for optimum and sustainable productivity based on land potential. This methodology is being considered for inclusion into USDA-NRCS Natural Resource Inventory that is a nationwide assessment of natural resources across the U.S. and may be used on millions of acres of privately owned rangelands across the U.S.

8. Measuring floral resources provided by annual cover crops for managed and wild bees. Flowering cover crops have the potential to be beneficial for pollinators. Sunflowers, a component of the natural landscape in North America, are often included in cover crop seed mixtures to support pollinating insects, and the size of flowers (floral display) can be important in attracting pollinators. Measurements of sunflower heads are also important for estimating seed yield. However, measuring the sunflower head, disc, and ray florets (petals) by hand can be subjective and time-consuming. An image processing method was developed by ARS scientists from Mandan, North Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota and scientists from North Dakota State University to give more accurate and objective measurement than manual methods, decreasing time and labor in the field. An added benefit is the potential use of this method by growers to estimate seed yields.

9. Intercropping can reduce crop stress and enhance water use efficiency. Intercropping is a crop management approach that has been proposed to enhanced resource use. Since most intercropping studies have focused on two-species systems, there is a gap in our understanding of how component crops will respond physiologically to intercropping systems consisting of multiple species. In an intercropping study with 2, 3, 4, and 5 crops, an ARS scientist from Mandan, North Dakota, in cooperation with scientists from Texas A&M, found that overall yields for dominant crops increased without increasing water inputs, and that water stress may be reduced in some component crops. Findings from this study may help growers increase overall crop production without increasing water inputs.

10. Effects of dietary tannins on total and extractable nutrients from manure. While plant tannins are known to influence ruminant nutrition, less is known about their influence on manure quality. ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota collaborated with scientists from Miami (Ohio) University, to conduct a feeding trial with sheep to determine if intake of Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneate, a condensed tannin source) would affect nutrients in manure, and patterns of total excretion when fed with alfalfa. When sericea was added to the animal’s rations the concentrations of total carbon, nitrogen, and boron in manure, daily manure outputs, and manure/feed ratios for each element increased. Concentrations of water-extractable nitrogen decreased with added sericea, but with greater manure outputs, no significant variations of daily outputs occurred. Manure concentrations and daily outputs of phosphorus (P2O5) were not significantly affected by different rations. Concentrations, daily outputs, and proportions of water-extractable phosphorus were all significantly increased by sericea addition. This study provides useful baseline information about the nutrient content of sheep manure and indicates that dietary tannins can significantly alter manure quality and quantity that must be accounted for in integrated crop livestock systems.

Review Publications
Liebig, M.A., Ryschawy, J., Kronberg, S.L., Archer, D.W., Scholljegerdes, E.J., Hendrickson, J.R., Tanaka, D.L. 2017. Integrated crop-livestock system effects on soil N, P, and pH in a semiarid region. Geoderma. 289:178-184.
Saliendra, N.Z., Liebig, M.A., Kronberg, S.L. 2018. Carbon use and uptake efficiencies of hayed alfalfa and grassland in a semiarid environment. Ecosphere. 9(3):e02147.
Merrill, S.D., Liebig, M.A., Hendrickson, J.R., Wick, A. 2018. Soil quality and water redistribution influences on plant production over low hillslopes on reclaimed mined land. International Journal of Agronomy. Vol. 2018, Article ID 1431054, 12 pages.
Ghaley, B.B., Rusu, T., Sanden, T., Spiegel, H., Menta, C., Visioli, G., O'Sullivan, L., Gattin, I.T., Delgado, A., Liebig, M.A., Vrebos, D., Szegi, T., Micheli, E., Cacovean, H., Henriksen, C.B. 2018. Assessment of benefits of conservation agriculture on soil functions in arable production systems in Europe. Sustainability. 10(3):794.
Faust, D.R., Kumar, S., Archer, D.W., Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L., Liebig, M.A. 2018. Integrated crop-livestock systems and water quality in the Northern Great Plains: Review of current practices and future research needs. Journal of Environmental Quality. 47:1-15.
Liebig, M.A., Hendrickson, J.R., Franco Jr, J.G., Archer, D.W., Nichols, K.A., Tanaka, D.L. 2018. Near-surface soil property responses to forage production in a semiarid region. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 82:223-230.
Faust, D.R., Kroger, R., Moore, M.T., Rush, S.A. 2018. Management practices used in agricultural drainage ditches to reduce Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 100:32-40.
Ehrhardt, F., Soussana, J., Bellocchi, G., Grace, P., McAuliffe, R., Recous, S., Sandor, R., Smith, P., Snow, V., Migliorati, M.D., Basso, B., Bhatia, A., Brilli, L., Doltra, J., Dorich, C.D., Doro, L., Fitton, N., Giacomini, S.J., Grant, B., Harrison, M.T., Jones, S.K., Kirschbaum, M.U., Klumpp, K., Laville, P., Leonard, J., Liebig, M.A., Lieffering, M., Martin, R., Massad, R., Meier, E., Merbold, L., Moore, A.D., Myrgiotis, V., Newton, P., Pattey, E., Rolinski, S., Sharp, J., Smith, W.N., Wu, L., Zhang, Q. 2017. Assessing uncertainties in crop and pasture ensemble model simulations of productivity and N2O emissions. Global Change Biology. 24(2):e603-e616.
Nash, P.R., Gollany, H.T., Liebig, M.A., Halvorson, J.J., Archer, D.W., Tanaka, D.L. 2018. Simulated soil organic carbon responses to crop rotation, tillage, and climate change in North Dakota. Journal of Environmental Quality. 47:654-662.
Spiegal, S.A., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Archer, D.W., Augustine, D.J., Boughton, E., Boughton, R., Clark, P., Derner, J.D., Duncan, E.W., Cavigelli, M.A., Hapeman, C.J., Harmel, R.D., Heilman, P., Holly, M.A., Huggins, D.R., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Liebig, M.A., Locke, M.A., McCarty, G.W., Millar, N., Mirsky, S.B., Moorman, T.B., Pierson, F.B., Rigby, J.R., Robertson, G., Steiner, J.L., Strickland, T.C., Swain, H., Wienhold, B.J., Wulfhorts, J., Yost, M., Walthall, C.L. 2018. Evaluating strategies for sustainable intensification of U.S. agriculture through the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network. Environmental Research Letters. 13(3):034031.
Embaye, W.T., Bergtold, J.S., Archer, D.W., Flora, C., Andrango, G.C., Odening, M., Buysse, J. 2018. Examining farmers' willingness to grow and allocate land for oilseed crops for biofuel production. Energy Economics. 71:311-320.
Shajahan, S., Navaneeth, S., Babu, D., Cannayen, I., Franco Jr, J.G., Mallinger, R.E., Prasifka, J.R., Archer, D.W. 2018. Sunflower floral dimension measurements using digital image processing. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. 151:403-415.
Simpson, C.R., Franco Jr, J.G., King, S.R., Volder, A. 2018. Intercropping halophytes to mitigate salinity stress in watermelon. Sustainability. 10(3):681.
Franco Jr, J.G., King, S.R., Volder, A. 2018. Component crop physiology and water use efficiency in response to intercropping. European Journal of Agronomy. 93:27-39.
Franco Jr, J.G., King, S.R., Masabani, J.G., Volder, A. 2018. Intercropped watermelon for weed suppression in a low-input organic system. HortTechnology. 28(2):172-181.
Halvorson, J.J., Kronberg, S.L., Hagerman, A.E. 2017. Effects of dietary tannins on total and extractable nutrients from manure. Journal of Animal Science. 95:3654-3665.
Franco Jr, J.G., Duke, S.E., Hendrickson, J.R., Liebig, M.A., Archer, D.W., Tanaka, D.L. 2018. Spring wheat yields following perennial forages in a semiarid no-till cropping system. Agronomy Journal. 110(5):1-9.
Weyers, S.L., Johnson, J.M., Archer, D.W., Forcella, F., Gesch, R.W. 2018. Manure and residue inputs maintained soil organic carbon in Upper Midwest conservation production systems. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 82:878-888.
Foster, J., Butler, T., Islam, A., Toledo, D.N., Tracy, B., Venreamini, J. 2018. Resiliency in forage and grazinglands. Crop Science. 58:31–42.
Archer, D.W., Liebig, M.A., Tanaka, D.L., Pokharel, K.P. 2018. Crop diversity effects on productivity and economics: A Northern Great Plains case study. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 1-8.