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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Corvallis, Oregon » Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit » Research » Research Project #435480

Research Project: Improving Plant, Soil, and Cropping Systems Health and Productivity through Advanced Integration of Comprehensive Management Practices

Location: Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit

Project Number: 2072-12620-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 28, 2018
End Date: Sep 27, 2023

The long-term aim of this project is to address strategic, high priority needs of grass seed growers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) by assessing and developing management practices that simultaneously improve crop productivity and advance soil health. This aim will be met by interrogating research questions that fall into two broad objectives. The first objective is primarily focused on improving crop production by lessening the overall impact of pests, weeds, and pathogens, improving the arability of marginal lands with novel soil amendments, and assessing the impacts of management practices on soil health and fertility. Objective 2 also aims to improve crop productivity by identifying key interactions between genetics, environment, and management (G x E x M). Within this objective, tradeoffs between intensifying production and advancing ecosystem services are quantified and better understood to help farms reach and sustain their potential, including the impact of crop rotation and other management practices on increasing populations of beneficial microbes and improving soil health. Collectively, Objectives 1 and 2 advance our understanding of how G x E x M interactions impact agroecosystem productivity and resilience. For Objective 3, these data will be synthesized and developed into decision-support tools and models to provide growers with concrete strategies for improved land management and cultivation of grass seed cropping systems. Objective 1: Identify and evaluate management practices that improve crop productivity and crop health or that enhance environmental quality. - Sub-objective 1A: Identify technologies to reduce priority pests, diseases, and weeds that limit the profitability and sustainability of the cropping system. - Sub-objective 1B: Assess the environmental and production outcomes from the application of biochar on marginal soils. - Sub-objective 1C: Determine the effectiveness of crop rotation in reducing populations of weeds, diseases, and invertebrate pests. Objective 2: Identify and assess key interactions between cropping system, environmental conditions and management practices that influence cropping outcomes and agroecosystem productivity. - Sub-objective 2A: Evaluate the impact of management practices, including crop rotation, on soil health parameters. - Sub-objective 2B: Assess the impact of cruciferous crop rotations on plant growth and microbiomes. Objective 3: Develop knowledge and decision support tools that enable growers to optimize production. - Sub-objective 3A: Develop and expand decision support tools that provide information about biochar to growers. - Sub-objective 3B: Develop models and decision aids that improve soil health and improve system productivity by decreasing the yield gap. - Sub-objective 3C: Develop strategies to reduce priority pests, diseases, and weeds and improve soil health.

The overall hypothesis of the project is that improved cropping practices in grass seed cropping systems provides simultaneous benefits to soil health and crop productivity. This hypothesis is tested within three objectives and their related subobjectives. In Objective One, we explore methods to reduce the populations of weeds and pests that limit productivity. This research is conducted in laboratory, greenhouse, and field experiments that determine if practices that promote soil health and lessen environmental impacts (application of soil amendments, selective herbicide application, and precision weed management) are detrimental or beneficial to crop yield. In Objective Two, the research aims to determine if conservation practices (cover cropping and reduced tillage) improve soil health, and if soil health can be attributed to improvements in crop yield. These objectives are met with laboratory, greenhouse, and field experiments that assess soil health and identify allelopathic responses mitigated by cover crops. The aim of Objective Three is to synthesize the information gathered in Objectives One and Two, and to create decision support tools that enable growers to optimize production. These tools will be provided to growers as web-based tool kits, models, or agronomic measures used to control pests, pathogens, and weeds, and to apply soil amendments. In general, these approaches aim to identify key interactions between genetics, environment, and management that simultaneously reduce farm inputs and improve ecosystem services by identifying and quantifying tradeoffs.