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Research Project: Improved Crop Production Systems for Sustainability of Water Resources in the Lower Mississippi River Basin

Location: Office of The Area Director

Project Number: 6001-13000-002-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jun 26, 2017
End Date: Jun 4, 2019

Objective:
1. Develop integrated conservation management cropping systems that improve soil health, water availability, water quality, and productivity. 2. Develop integrated irrigation and crop management systems that increase profitability, conserve water, and protect water quality in the Mid-South. 3. Assess the profitability and risks associated with integrated production agriculture and conservation systems in the Mid-South. 4. Assess surface and subsurface hydrology, surface runoff, and contaminant transport in conservation crop production systems at plot and field scales.

Approach:
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists will conduct research to develop economically and environmentally sustainable production systems adapted to conditions in the Lower Mississippi River Basin. Strategies will include improved water application technology and water utilization efficiency, and development of alternative water supplies for irrigated agriculture that ultimately consider sustainability of water resources. This research will result in improved recommendations for irrigation scheduling, as well as optimization of the number and placement of soil moisture sensors and distribution of wells. Water management practices such as warped surface land leveling, capturing and storing runoff, and placement of irrigation equipment will be investigated. Research on agronomic practices that conserve water will include improved fertility recommendations for irrigation management, and optimum agronomic practices such as row width, plant densities, tillage, cover crop, and drought tolerant cultivars. Assessment of water quality, contaminant transport, water movement (surface runoff, leaching), and associated processes will lead to a better understanding of the impacts of water management on ecosystem services. Long-term research will help in the development of regional water conservation strategies that provide resilience to climate extremes. Investigations of soils will include characterizing physical properties and processes that control the flow and transport of water, gases, nutrients, and contaminants in the soil. Research evaluating conservation and irrigation management impacts on soil physical processes and soil-water-plant relationships should lead to improved interpretation and application of sensors measuring soil properties (e.g., relationships between soil moisture sensors versus soil type) and improved fertility recommendations for irrigation management. Development and application of modeling tools will help to link irrigation recommendations and rainfall probability in a decision support system for efficient use of irrigation, integrate conservation and irrigation scheduling technologies to achieve both crop production and natural resource protection goals, and enable proper implementation of conservation practices in the landscape. Economics assessments will address connections and interdependence between human economies (e.g., agricultural management) and natural ecosystems, and determine trade-offs between agricultural production and soil and water conservation practices.