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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #435506

Research Project: Sustainable Agricultural Systems for the Northern Great Plains

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

2020 Annual Report


1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
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. (Component 1, PS1c; Component 2, PS2b; Component 3, PS3a, 3b). Subobjective 3C: Evaluate the impact of management strategies including use of phytochemical-rich cover crops and pulse crops on soil and plant function and linkages to crop and meat nutrient density and functional quality. 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.


1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Agriculture not only faces the challenge of meeting growing needs for food, feed, fuel, and fiber, but also providing non-provisioning ecosystem services while adapting to variable weather conditions. This project builds upon previous research at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL), by continuing and expanding research on how management scenarios can impact ecosystem services, but also evaluating the effect of management on nutrient concentrations and providing ways to scale the research to landscape and national levels. The project will continue to develop sustainable management strategies for crops and livestock while using this knowledge to develop more efficient crop-livestock systems (Objective 1). Through collaboration with other ARS locations, NGPRL will determine how different management strategies affect nutrient concentration in crops and carcass quality in livestock (Objective 3). Modelling will be used to scale findings at the plot or field scale to landscape or regional levels and to explore potential management options for producers under variable weather conditions (Objective 2). Finally, NGPRL is involved in multiple national networks, including the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Long Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network, which allow network collaborations to leverage local expertise and scale and share research findings at a national level. The NGPRL is uniquely suited to conduct this multitier research because it has a diversity of landscapes and disciplines in which conduct these multiple approaches to sustainably intensify agriculture. We anticipate that completing this project plan will produce contributions to network databases and also guidelines for developing sustainable integrated agricultural systems. Outcomes from the project will benefit producers, the scientific community and policy makers by producing guidelines and management options.


3. Progress Report:
Objective 1: Subobjective 1A. Grazing and burning plots were established, baseline data collected, and initial burn and grazing treatments initiated on 2 of the 4 replicates. This is a staggered start design so only 2 of the 4 replicates had treatments initiated. Baseline data was taken on the other 2 replicates and treatments will be initiated next year. Additional collaborations were made with ARS researchers in Sidney, Montana, to look at treatment impact on grasshopper and dung beetle numbers. Subobjective 1.B. Research continued experiment 1.B.1 as planned. Treatments in Experiment 1.B.2, a long-term (24 year) soil quality experiment, were modified and planted to perennials in 2019 and stand establishment and biomass production data were collected. Experiment 1.B.3 was continued with preparation for perennial grain treatments to be planted in the fall. Subobjective 1.C. Research continued experiment 1.C.1 largely as planned although grazing in fall 2019 was not completed due to wet field conditions. Data from experiment 1.C.1 were analyzed for the preparation of multiple manuscripts associated with involvement in a National Institute for Food and Agriculture Coordinated Agricultural Projects (NIFA-CAP) grant (Back to the Future: Enhancing Food Security and Farm Production with Integrated Crop-Livestock Production Systems). Manuscripts either initiated or in journal review address the following topics: Crop and forage productivity, greenhouse gas flux dynamics, soil carbon and nitrogen stocks, global warming potential, and water quality. Objective 2 - Subobjective 2A. Data collection on Kentucky bluegrass growth curves has been done for two years. However, development of the Grazingland Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender (APEX) simulation model was discontinued by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) limiting the ability to analyze data for a livestock-based system. Currently data is being processed through the Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle (NASEM) model to determine feasibility of adapting this model’s output to analyze integrated agricultural systems. Subobjective 2B. Fall burns were conducted on half of the plots. Tiller count and cover data was collected for an additional year. Researchers are collaborating with an ARS statistician to determine most appropriate statistical analysis for the data. A graduate student from North Dakota State University is planning on using the plots for an evaluation of axillary buds on Kentucky bluegrass. Objective 3. Subobjective 3A. Wheat grain samples were sent to the ARS research laboratory in Fargo, North Dakota, to be analyzed for minerals and protein from a cropping systems project at Mandan, North Dakota, which compared cropping systems with and without a perennial phase. Researchers in Mandan, North Dakota, are currently working with the area statistician, researchers at the ARS laboratories in Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota, to publish the results. Subobjective 3B. Manure samples were analyzed for the effects of grape seed extracts on macro and micro-nutrient profiles. Preliminary tests of the effects of topical applications of tannins and simple organic acids on Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) and Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) nitrogen. Full experiment was completed to determine the effects of topical applications of benzoates on manure ADF-N. Subobjective 3B. After multiple attempts, the yearling Angus cattle used in Subobjective 3B have not gotten large enough to reach at least 1000 lbs of weight per animal by the end of August. This is required in order to field finish them to slaughter condition on the cover crop hay, standing forage and corn, which are grown in our integrated crops-livestock fields. High variability in availability of cover crop material for hay production and grazing has also been a limitation of trying to finish our yearling Angus cattle on the integrated crops-livestock fields. Therefore, we are dropping this aspect of Subobjective 3B. Objective 4: Subobjective 4A. Assessments were conducted at both plot and field scales for the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research Network Croplands Common Experiment. Relevant plant, soil, air, and imagery samples were collected along with applicable metadata. The experiment being conducted in Subobjective 1.A was included as the locations contribution to the LTAR Grazinglands Common Experiment. LTAR project was initiated as a staggered start design with half of the replications having treatments implemented and baseline data being collected on the other half with planned treatment implementation in the Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021. Subobjective 4B. Large fields included in the LTAR Croplands Common Experiment at the location are part of the National Wind Erosion Research Network (NWERN) and site data were collected and shared with NWERN. Agronomic data from the Area IV Soil Conservation Districts Cooperative Research Farm were collected and sent to collaborators on the Crop Categorization Project.


4. Accomplishments
1. Renewable jet fuel from oilseed feedstocks replacing fallow. Jet fuels have been made from oilseeds crops and could be used to replace fossil fuels. However, there are concerns about “food versus fuel” and land use competition for these fuels. ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, along with scientists at Michigan Tech, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Phitsanulok, Thailand looked at growing the oilseeds in place of fallow in non-irrigated areas of the U.S. Northern Great plains to avoid displacing other crops and improve environmental and economic sustainability. Results showed that growing oilseeds in place of fallow reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases soil carbon. Oilseed jet fuel production from this transition could also boost farmer incomes in the region by $127 to $152 million per year.

2. Economics of crop residue harvest and grazing. Crop residues could provide an additional source of revenue for agricultural producers. But there are concerns that harvesting these residues could have negative impacts on crop yields and economic returns. ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota, measured effects of crop residue harvest on crop yield and economic returns for baling and grazing, and for crop rotation and cover crop options. Corn yield was lower when crop residues had been baled, but not with grazing. Harvesting residue to generate more income in the wheat-pea-corn rotation reduced profits by $25-26 per acre. Results suggest that producers should take grain production effects into consideration when making decisions about harvesting or grazing crop residues.

3. Developed livestock grazing strategies for reducing abundance of an invasive perennial grass on rangelands. Kentucky bluegrass is an invasive grass, that within 30-years, has come to dominate rangelands in the Northern Great Plains. ARS scientists at Mandan, North Dakota, evaluated whether early spring grazing could reduce the amount of Kentucky bluegrass and increase native grasses on rangelands. They found that grazing in the spring, prior to the recommended turn-out date, could increase the amount of native grasses but the impact on Kentucky bluegrass was variable. This research provides a tool, timing of grazing, that livestock producers are familiar with and can use in improving their rangeland vegetation.

4. Developed and modified protocols for interpreting indicators of rangeland health. As part of a 10-person interdisciplinary, multi-agency team, ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, developed and modified protocols related to a qualitative assessment tool for rangeland health. The team successfully addressed improvements to interagency technical reference “Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health”. Developments improved ease of use and consistency in protocol application based on multiple years of testing and applying the technique. Protocols are being used by national resource inventories including the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Resources Inventory and the Bureau of Land Management Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring program.

5. Improved a national tool for pasture condition scoring. ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) team members improved a national tool for assessing and managing livestock pastures. The team improved the Pasture Condition Scoring methods to make them more consistent and easier to use for pasture managers and USDA-NRCS conservation planners. The protocol is also being used in national level assessments, such as the USDA-National Resources Inventory.

6. Global analysis highlights perennial crop effects on soil carbon. Agricultural lands could potentially store up to two-thirds of historical carbon loss if managed properly. Planting perennial crops has been offered as a way to increase soil organic carbon (SOC) while also improving food production. However, information is needed on how much SOC can be increased with perennial crops. Therefore, a global dataset was used to explore SOC changes under perennial crops. ARS researchers at Mandan, North Dakota, teamed up with scientists in nine countries to show that: 1) a change from annual to perennial crops over 20 years led to an average 20% increase in SOC in the top 12 inches of soil and a 10% increase in the top 40 inches, 2) woody crops were most effective at increasing SOC, and 3) temperature was the main variable explaining differences in SOC changes, followed by crop age, and soil factors. This information is useful to producers, action agencies, and policy makers in showing that growing perennial crops can increase carbon in the soil, and in identifying the amounts that could be stored.

7. Impacts of cropping systems on soil water use by spring wheat. In semi-arid areas, efficient use of precipitation is critical to maintaining crop productivity. ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, evaluated soil water use by spring wheat grown in a long-term cropping system experiment under different tillage systems (No-Till and Minimum-Till) and different cropping intensities. Cropping intensities were crops grown every year (continuous cropping), 2 crops per 3-yr cycle, and crops grown every other year (crop – fallow). Spring wheat was included in every system. Spring wheat, grown in a continuous cropping with different crops every year had the highest water use efficiency and continuous cropping tended to have greater precipitation use efficiencies over the life of the study. This information is useful to producers in semi-arid areas in selecting cropping systems to best use available water.

8. Humic substances do not enhance soil fertility under salt stress and drought. Semiarid soils may be poor in organic carbon, a necessary source of energy for soil microorganisms that affect plant growth. Adding organic carbon can improve soil quality, but some organic carbon compounds, such as humic compounds, may impact soil chemical composition including salinity. ARS scientists in Mandan, North Dakota, and Riverside, California, collaborated with Brazilian scientists to evaluate the impact of two humic compound sources, cow-manure based fertilizer and an organic commercial amendment, on passion fruit grown on a semiarid soil irrigated with saline water during a drought in Brazil. Irrigating with saline water and adding humic compounds reduced soil fertility during low rainfall periods. Combining humic compounds with salinity increased soil salinity. This information is useful for producers who are interested in adding humic compounds to semiarid soils during a drought.

9. A review of the sustainability of integrated crop-livestock systems. Integrated crop-livestock systems have been proposed as a method to improve productivity while maintaining environmental quality. An ARS scientist at Mandan, North Dakota reviewed the existing literature relating to the sustainability of integrated crop livestock systems. The review included 116 papers encompassing the three aspects of sustainability: environmental, economic and social, indicated that most research efforts had been in the environment and economic arenas with the social aspect receiving less emphasis. There was relatively little research that looked at all three aspects together. Most research in the social area had focused on system adoption with little research on the impact of integrated crop livestock systems on the social fabric of communities. This information is critical for determining potential research direction in integrated crop-livestock systems.

10. Impact of forages containing tannin, a plant secondary compound, on microbial and nitrate activity in soil. All plants produce primary and secondary compounds. Primary compounds are associated with the growth of plants, while secondary compounds have various roles which improve ecological resiliency. Plant secondary compounds may also provide more resiliency to agricultural systems. A collaborative study by an ARS researcher from Mandan, North Dakota, and researchers from Utah State University in Logan, Utah, found that grazed pastures containing forages with tannins and saponins, both of which are plant secondary compounds, had lower microbial activity than grass pastures without these forages. Pastures with tannin-containing forages also had lower soil nitrate levels than pastures without tannin-containing forages. This research is important to producers as using crops and forages containing certain plant secondary compounds could slow nitrogen mineralization in the soil, which could improve water quality and reduce the need for applying fertilizer.


5. Record of Any Impact of Maximized Teleworking Requirement:
Maximum telework due to COVID-19 had positive and negative impacts on the location and impacts have varied by individual situation. Also, it is important to distinguish between impacts caused by maximum telework and those caused by social distancing and other requirements needed to address the pandemic. Maximum telework has provided opportunities to assemble, analyze, interpret and write peer-reviewed publications in many instances. However, it should be noted that individual situations may impact productivity. For example, informal conversations with colleagues, which are critical for creative thinking, are limited under a maximum telework situation. Individuals with younger dependents that require additional supervision or help with schooling have found it difficult to find uninterrupted time for writing or other tasks. In addition, there appears to be an increase in virtual meetings with can reduce productivity. Social distancing and other pandemic responses have also impacted laboratory activities. Social distancing protocols have slowed field work and made data collection more inefficient. Limiting the number of riders in a vehicle along with previous efforts at limiting vehicle pools have resulted in vehicle shortages, and many scientists and technicians are using their own vehicles for field activities. Other impacts from social distancing have been a restriction on training activities, both having trainers on location and going to training off-location. This has resulted in new instrumentation not being deployed in a timely manner if at all. Some staff members prefer not to engage using electronic means (e.g. email, teleconference, Team and Zoom meetings) and this has increased supervisor responsibilities in some situations. Overall, the impacts of maximum telework have not resulted in the unit not meeting milestones or reducing publications. However, the situation was more challenging for early-career scientists. The restrictions limited mentoring, training, and networking. The reduced efficiency in data collection may impact the ability of early-career scientists to meet future publication goals which can impact future project milestones and disrupt career trajectories. These implications should be considered for early-career scientists and thought given to how to limit their impact.


Review Publications
Shi, R., Archer, D.W., Pokharel, K.P., Pearlson, M., Lewis, K.C., Ukaew, S., Shonnard, D.R. 2019. Analysis of renewable jet fuel from oilseed replacing fallow in the U.S. Northern Great Plains. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. 7:18753-18764. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b02150.
Belesky, D.P., Halvorson, J.J., Ruckle, J.M., Mata-Padrino, D.J. 2019. Designed and naturalized sward response to management: 1. Patterns of herbage production. Annals of Applied Biology. 175:42-53. https://doi.org/10.1111/aab.12512.
Halvorson, J.J., Archer, D.W., Liebig, M.A., Yeater, K.M., Tanaka, D.L. 2019. Impacts of intensified cropping systems on soil water use by spring wheat. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 83:1188-1199. https://doi.org/doi:10.2136/sssaj2018.09.0349.
Suddarth, S.R., Ferreira, J.F., Cavalcante, L.F., Fraga, V.S., Anderson, R.G., Halvorson, J.J., Bezerra, F.T., Medeiros, S.A., Costa, C.R., Dias, N.S. 2019. Can humic substances improve soil fertility under salt stress and drought conditions? Journal of Environmental Quality. 48(6):1605-1613. https://doi.org/10.2134/jeq2019.02.0071.
Kumar, S., Sood, K., Sieverding, H., Thandiwe, N., Bly, A., Wienhold, B.J., Redfearn, D., Archer, D.W., Ussiri, D., Faust, D.R., Landblom, D., Grings, E., Stone, J., Jacquet, J., Pokharel, K.P., Liebig, M.A., Schmer, M.R., Sexton, P., Mitchell, R., Smalley, S., Osborne, S.L., Ali, S., Senturklu, S., Sehgal, S., Owens, V., Jin, V.L. 2019. Facilitating crop–livestock reintegration in the northern great plains. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 111(5):2141-2156. https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2018.07.0441.
Reichhardt, C., Ahmadpour, A., Christensen, R., Ineck, N., Murdoch, G., Thornton, K. 2020. Understanding the influence of trenbolone acetate and polyamines on proliferation of bovine satellite cells. Domestic Animal Endocrinology. 74:106479. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.domaniend.2020.106479.
Pokharel, K.P., Archer, D.W., Featherstone, A.M. 2020. The impact of size and specialization on the financial performance of agricultural cooperatives. Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management. 8:100108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcom.2020.100108.
Hendrickson, J.R. 2020. Crop-livestock integrated systems for more sustainable agricultural production: A review. CABI (Council of Applied Biology International), Oxford, United Kingdom. 15:1-11. https://doi.org/10.1079/PAVSNNR202015012.
Hendrickson, J.R., Kronberg, S.L., Scholljegerdes, E.J. 2020. Can targeted grazing reduce abundance of an invasive perennial grass (Kentucky bluegrass) on native mixed grass prairie? Rangeland Ecology and Management. 73:547-551. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2020.04.001.
Ledo, A., Smith, P., Zerihun, A., Whitaker, J., Vicente-Vicente, J., Quin, Z., McNamara, N.P., Zinn Lopes, Y., Llorente, M., Liebig, M.A., Kuhnert, M., Dondini, M., Don, A., Diaz-Pines, E., Datta, A., Bakka, H., Aguilera, E., Hillier, J. 2020. Changes in soil organic carbon under perennial crops. Global Change Biology. 26:4158-4168. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15120.
Baffaut, C., Baker, J.M., Biederman, J.A., Bosch, D.D., Brooks, E.S., Buda, A.R., Demaria, E.M., Elias, E.H., Flerchinger, G.N., Goodrich, D.C., Hamilton, S.K., Hardegree, S.P., Harmel, R.D., Hoover, D.L., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Liebig, M.A., McCarty, G.W., Moglen, G.E., Moorman, T.B., Moriasi, D.N., Okalebo, J., Pierson Jr, F.B., Russell, E.S., Saliendra, N.Z., Saha, A.K., Smith, D.R., Yasarer, L.M. 2020. Comparative analysis of water budgets across the U.S. long-term agroecosystem research network. Journal of Hydrology. 588. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.125021.
Archer, D.W., Liebig, M.A., Kronberg, S.L. 2020. Dryland crop production and economic returns for crop residue harvest or grazing. Agronomy Journal. 112:1881-1894. https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20100.
Archer, D.W., Franco Jr, J.G., Halvorson, J.J., Pokharel, K.P. 2018. Integrated farming systems. Fath, B. editor. Encylopedia of Ecology (2nd Edition). Oxford, UK: Elsevierp. 508-514.
Menzies Pluer, E., Schneider, R., Morreale, S., Liebig, M.A., Li, J., Li, C., Walter, M. 2020. Returning degraded soils to productivity: an examination of the potential of coarse woody amendments for improved water retention and nutrient holding capacity. Journal of Water Air and Soil Pollution. 231:15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-019-4380-x.