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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

2018 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
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.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
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.

3. Progress Report:
Progress for the Project 6001-13000-002-00D includes the development of the new Alluvial Aquifer Water Research Center facilities that will be staffed by an interdisciplinary research group addressing regional agricultural concerns to provide more coordination between federal and state scientists. Scientist positions were announced for an Irrigation Engineer or equivalent qualified to develop, improve and assess irrigation technologies that improve water utilization and sustainability in agricultural management systems, an Agronomist or equivalent qualified with knowledge and experience in irrigation management, crop plant density, soil fertility, and conservation tillage for water use efficiency and a Natural Resource Economist or equivalent with knowledge and experience to address the economic connections and interdependence between agricultural management practices and natural ecosystems.

4. Accomplishments