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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research » Research » Research Project #431551

Research Project: Improving the Productivity and Climatic Resilience of Agricultural Production Systems in Semiarid and Arid Ecosystems

Location: Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research

Project Number: 3096-12610-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Oct 1, 2016
End Date: Sep 18, 2017

Objective 1: Evaluate management practices that prevent soil degradation by soil erosion in semiarid cropping and rangeland systems. • Sub-objective 1A: Investigate soil redistribution and dust emissions from agro-ecosystems including rangelands and native plant communities under the stressors resulting from climate change. • Sub-objective 1B: Evaluate management systems in terms of multi-decadal erosion rates estimated from radioisotope inventories. Objective 2: Evaluation of management practices to increase soil water availability and contribute to higher water and nutrient use efficiencies. • Sub-objective 2A: Partitioning of evapotranspiration to water evaporation from soil and crop surfaces for dryland and irrigated cropping systems across different N fertilizer management strategies. • Sub-objective 2B: Investigate changes in groundwater quantity and quality that may affect cropland production in semiarid and arid regions. Objective 3: Development of management practices that contribute to maintaining microbial diversity and functions needed to improve soil health, ensure ecosystem sustainability, and maintain crop productivity under a changing climate. • Sub-objective 3A: Compare the effects of different management practices in semiarid regions on soil health indicators including the microbial community size, diversity and functions. • Sub-objective 3B: Characterize the effects of climatic events on soil health and the effects of future climate change (CO2, temperature and rainfall) on agro-ecosystems by measuring root biomass, soil microbial diversity and soil organic matter pools.

Sustainable agriculture, with an emphasis on the conservation of natural resources, is a challenge in the semiarid climate of the Southern High Plains (SHP). Of concern are developing cropping systems that cope with climate change, depletion of aquifers used for irrigation, and growing seasons characterized by frequent droughts and erratic rainfall. Record-breaking drought in 2011 and record-breaking rainfall amounts in 2015 forced agricultural producers to seek economically viable cropping systems, while struggling to adapt to extreme weather events. Climate change is expected to impose general global challenges but, clearly, solutions to these problems will be site specific. For example, one of our research goals is to examine the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration on soil biodiversity and carbon sequestration in soils of the SHP. Given environmental constraints of the SHP, few crops other than cotton are viable and management choices in the face of unpredictable extreme weather events are difficult. With the ongoing decline in irrigated area and a return to more dryland farming dictate our research emphasis on rainfall capture and careful management of other limiting input factors. Our overall goal is to develop sustainable agricultural systems that optimize productivity, conserve water, control soil erosion and improve soil quality for agricultural production in semiarid regions in a changing climate. Needed are cropping systems that incorporate management practices that reduce soil degradation by controlling soil erosion while increasing soil health, rainfall capture and improve economic productivity with limited water.