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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #435642

Research Project: Managing Agricultural Systems to Improve Agronomic Productivity, Soil, and Water Quality

Location: National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory

2021 Annual Report

Objective 1: Develop strategies to mitigate landscape scale attributes for improved soil and water quality and production efficiency. Sub-objective 1.1 Explore surface and subsurface hydrologic processes affecting soil quality and vulnerability on tile-drained landscape. Sub-objective 1.2 Evaluate sources and flow pathways of water and nutrients in tile-drained landscapes. Objective 2: Improve nutrient management efficiency to minimize water quality degradation and maximize agricultural production. Sub-objective 2.1 Assess the influence of combined conservation practices on soil organic matter transformations, nutrient cycling, and crop yield. Sub-objective 2.2 Evaluate soil P drawdown rates, plant phosphorus uptake, and potential changes in corn and soybean yield with elimination of phosphorus fertilizer to long-term fertility research plots. Sub-objective 2.3 Determine the critical phosphorus concentration for corn and soybean cultivars common to the Midwest using the Genetics X Environment X Management (GxExM) approach. Sub-objective 2.4 Evaluate quantity/intensity relationships and the kinetics of phosphorus release in diverse soils in working towards the long-term goal of improving soil fertility recommendations. Objective 3: Develop and refine decision support tools. Sub-objective 3.1 Develop software and database architectures to support collecting and managing observed natural resource data. Sub-objective 3.2 Develop decision support tools to explore and integrate observed field and small watershed data with spatial models. Sub-objective 3.3 Test and improve tools for assessment of climate change impacts on model predictions of soil erosion and chemical losses. Objective 4: Operate and maintain the Eastern Corn Belt LTAR network site in partnership with the Soil Drainage Research Unit, Columbus, OH and the National Center for Water Quality Research, Heidelberg University, Tiffin, OH 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. Sub-objective 4.1 Develop water, nitrogen, and phosphorus budgets for agricultural fields under prevailing management practices in the Eastern Corn Belt. Subobjective 4.2. Evaluate relationships between soil and water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions under different cropping and management scenarios in the Eastern Corn Belt.

Objective 1: Both laboratory and field studies will be used to gain a better understanding of the hydrologic processes that control erosion at various locations in the landscape and assess sources and flow pathways of nutrients and water to streams. This will involve assessing the effect of subsurface tile drains on in-stream variability of nutrient concentration and isotopic signatures. Indoor rainfall simulation tools and a stream survey will be utilized to accomplish the listed objective. Objective 2: Regarding soil quality and phosphorus fertilizer recommendations, laboratory and field experiments will be used. Current long-term field experiments where various crop rotations and best management practices have been implemented will provide soils for detailed laboratory analysis to assess the impact of the given practices on soil quality. For phosphorus fertilizer recommendations, the approach is to construct a controlled indoor growth facility and evaluate phosphorus uptake by various crop cultivars, followed by a detailed experiment on quantifying the ability of soil to supply dissolved phosphorus to solutions using long term incubations and various types of extraction methods. Objective 3: Computer programs will be developed for automation of uploading environmental data into the proper format for use by several models, as well as convert to specified data formats, and help interpret validation data from model simulations. This includes incorporation of various future climate scenarios into different models. Objective 4: Discharge, water quality data, and producer surveys will be used to develop water and nutrient budgets for agricultural fields in the Eastern Corn Belt region. This research will link soil quality parameters and soil processes to water quality and gas flux data collected from monitored field sites.

Progress Report
In support of Project Objectives 1, 3, and 4, sensor data from ARS field sites continue to be uploaded to a central website where users can view the latest weather and soil moisture data. Work has also continued using a commercial water database system to catalog and quality check all data for the ARS field research sites in Northeast Indiana. Ongoing field instrumentation updates have been supported through database configuration changes on the server and data access protocol changes on the data loggers and cell modems. Additional remote access to flow, level and velocity sensors was installed. The laboratory data management system can now automatically import this data at weekly intervals. This process has eliminated several manual steps for both retrieving the data and importing the data into the Aquarius data management system. Remote cameras have been installed at eleven Conservation Effects Assessment project (CEAP) field sites which transmit images every ten minutes to a server at the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory (NSERL). A separate server archives the image data. Software has been developed to concatenate an image sequence for various time-frames into time-lapse videos. This provides a valuable method of comparing other sensor data with image data collected at a specific date and time. A decision support tool for the design of phosphorus (P) removal structures was completed and is currently available to the public through the ARS website. This software allows a user to design different types of P removal structures based on site conditions, P absorbing material characteristics, and structure parameters. The phosphorus transport reduction app (P-TRAP) software allows users to explore different designs to meet performance goals for P removal amounts and material lifetime. A database of P absorbing material characteristics is included based on laboratory experiments. Calibration methods for the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) model have been developed that allow the user to specify crop yield targets. The automated procedure executes the WEPP model a number of times adjusting the biomass energy ratio each time. When a satisfactory adjusted parameter is determined the model is run a final time in a long term simulation. Feedback to a user is in the form of graphical outputs and an indication of the amount of parameter adjustment. This calibration procedure is important for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) efforts in comparing the WEPP model simulation predictions with other models. Downscaled climate information was obtained from General Circulation Models (GCMs) using the WEPP/SWAT Future Climate Input File Generator available at the NSERL website that utilizes MarkSim weather file generator data, as well as from the WEPPcloud interface ( developed by the University of Idaho and the USDA-Forest Service. These tools both access and downscale the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) projections. WEPP climate input files were created for the baseline historical (1950-2005) and the future RCP 8.5 (2006-2099) climate scenarios from the GCM future climate projections for the 20 locations across the United States. Erosion model simulations were conducted using both tilled fallow and typical cropping management at each site. Evaluation and comparison of results is currently in progress. Probabilistic model checker (PRISM) grid data available within the WEPPcloud interface were also utilized to generate climate inputs for the cells surrounding the 20 locations, and conduct WEPP model simulations under the tilled fallow and typical land management. The results from these simulations are also currently being examined, and comparisons being made between the results from the baseline climate at the selected weather station and the results from the 9 PRISM grid cells. Additionally, some select CMIP6 GCM projections that have become available from the High-Resolution Model Intercomparison Project (HighResMIP) have been downloaded for potential use in climate inputs for WEPP model simulations. HighResMIP outputs ranging from about 20 km to 50 km and hourly to daily in spatial and temporal resolutions, respectively, are currently being processed into standard units, calendars, and formats for further planned processing and formatting into both breakpoint and standard CLIGEN climate inputs for WEPP. These outputs are the highest spatial and temporal resolution climate projections available to date, and they present a unique opportunity to reduce uncertainty in climate change impact studies while simultaneously simplifying the workflows required to use such datasets by decreasing or eliminated necessity of spatial and temporal downscaling as well as bias correction. Without these projected future storm parameters, projected changes in daily precipitation amounts used to drive WEPP simulations would be assuming no changes in storm characteristics such as intensity or duration, which has been shown to be demonstrably false in observed climate change literature from the Fourth National Climate Assessment of the United States. The final longitudinal stream sample collection was completed in August 2020, whereby water samples and ditch sediment were collected every 100 m along a 9 km stream reach in the Upper Cedar Creek watershed in northeastern Indiana. Ditch sediment samples were air-dried, ground, and are being analyzed for a suite of physical and chemical parameters. All water samples are also being analyzed for nutrient concentration. In addition to the longitudinal stream survey, 10 cross-sectional ditch segments were surveyed to assess changes in the ditch geomorphology since the beginning of the study (i.e., Fall 2019). Sample and data analysis is anticipated to be completed within 2022. While there were no milestones associated with Subobjective 4.1, the nutrient budget work that was completed for the Eastern Corn Belt LTAR during the first 24 months of the project was expanded to the Texas Gulf LTAR and ultimately the entire LTAR Network. A graduate student at NSERL completed phosphorus budgets in collaboration with the Texas Gulf LTAR site for 9 fields and 2 small watersheds that identified the importance of hydrologic connectivity on phosphorus transport in this landscape. A postdoctoral research associate working with NSERL further expanded the phosphorus budget work to 24 research locations (15 LTAR sites, 9 university partner locations) across the U.S. and Canada. Sixty-one phosphorus budgets were determined across the diverse agricultural production systems across the research sites. Anticipated products from this network science include 3 peer-reviewed papers and one dataset. Publications are anticipated to be submitted within 2022. A P uptake experiment was completed on three different soybean cultivars using the indoor growth room. The experimental setup is one-of-a-kind in that it allows soybean (and corn) to be grown to full maturity with artificial media, under controlled conditions with 100% artificial light. Being able to grow 96 plants in this environment offers the advantages of field, greenhouse, growth chamber, and hydroponics studies without the disadvantages. Soybean plants were grown at eight different P concentrations, harvested, and analyzed for yield and nutrient partitioning. The data is still being processed. An extensive and diverse group of high phosphorus (P) soils and their respective subsoils were collected from around the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) for use in experiments regarding P dissolution and desorption. Thirty different high P soils were collected and initially characterized. Most notably, P desorption flow-through experiments have begun on these high P soils, with two different flow rates being tested. An effort also began for collecting a set of low P benchmark soils from around the U.S. Six soils have been collected and characterized at this point. A new technique for assessing the rate of P desorption from soils is being developed. Briefly, use of isothermal titration calorimetry is used to detect the heat of reaction from dissolved P desorbed from soil, in conjunction with use of anion exchange resin. If successful, this could provide a real-time measurement of the rate of P desorption from soils, which is important to modelling losses of P to surface water and also for crop P uptake. A study was conducted at Davis Purdue Agricultural Center, Farmland, Indiana to assess the impact of gypsum (G) and poultry litter (PL) on phosphorus runoff. Twenty-one rainfall simulations were conducted, including the following treatments: (1) G and PL mixed before application, (2) PL applied on top of G, (3) G applied on top of PL, (4) G application, then 1’’ rain event, then PL; (5) PL only, (6) G only, and (7) control. All G and PL were surface-applied. Runoff was collected every 10 min for 50 minutes. Runoff samples will be analyzed for sediments, P, nitrogen (N), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), pH, and electrical conductivity. Also, heavy metals will be analyzed to assess any possible sources of heavy metals from gypsum and poultry litter. This study was conducted with Dr. Dexter Watts, ARS-Auburn, Alabama Work continues for assessing the interaction between conservation practices (gypsum, cover crops, tillage, and manure) on soil health and crop production. Soil and plant samples were collected during the growing season. Also, grain was collected during harvest to analyze for protein and oil contents. Also, work continued on the P legacy experiment, where P fertilizer applications were ceased. Plant and soil samples were collected 3 times during the growing season. Also, grain samples were collected during harvest to analyze for oil and protein.

1. Changing rainfall patterns influence nutrient loss. In agricultural watersheds, shifting climate patterns present an immediate and localized risk to both farm productivity (i.e., too much or too little water) and downstream water quality. ARS researchers in West Lafayette, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio, evaluated rainfall patterns and their influence on water quantity and quality across the Maumee River, the largest contributor of nutrient loads to Lake Erie, from 1975-2017. Heavy (daily rainfall between 1-3 inches) and very heavy (daily rainfall >3 inches) increased by 45% over the 40-year study period, with increases primarily occurring during spring and summer. Rainfall patterns were strongly tied to nutrient loading at both the field and watershed scale. For example, edge-of-field monitoring showed that 80% of annual nutrient loading occurred during storm events comprising only a small fraction of the year (week to two months). Findings highlight that innovative water and nutrient management practices are needed to ensure that agricultural adaptation to climate change is sustainable.

2. Less phosphorus applied in 2019 resulted in less dissolved phosphorus transported to Lake Erie. In cooperation with Heidelberg University and NOAA, ARS scientists at West Lafayette, Indiana, studied the nutrient transport pattern to the Maumee River for the 2019 growing season compared to previous years. Increased P loading to the Western Lake Erie Basin has caused several dangerous algal blooms over the past decade. 2019 was an extremely wet year in the Western Basin and as a result, an appreciable area was not planted or fertilized. From this study, we determined that a 29% decrease in dissolved P losses in 2019 occurred with a 62% reduction in applied P. The results emphasize the impact of both climate and management practices on P transport and suggest that an appreciable portion of P transported to the Western Basin can be immediately reduced through proper fertilizer application timing and incorporation.

3. Plants with fibrous roots are more effective in reducing erosion. It is well known that plants are effective in reducing erosion, with most research efforts focused on above-ground biomasses, i.e., leaves, stems and residues. However, the effects of different roots on soil erosion remain unclear. ARS scientists at West Lafayette, Indiana, and Chinese cooperators from the Institute of Soil and Water Conservation measured soil erodibility on intact soil samples with ten different herbaceous plants and found that fibrous roots were close to ten times more effective in reducing soil erosion than tap roots. The root surface area is the most sensitive parameter to be used to quantify the root effect. This research provided a new dataset and a single parameter that can be incorporated into process-based erosion prediction models to properly account for root effects.

4. Hidden story about changes in surface topography. Changes in surface topography has been commonly used to identify areas of erosion where the surface is lowered, and sediment deposition where elevation is increased. In a linear hillslope model, it has been conceptualized for an erosion zone to develop at the upper part of the slope and a deposition zone toward the lower part of the hillslope. A team of ARS scientists at West Lafayette, Indiana, and Purdue University cooperators analyzed topographic changes in a 3.7m (w) x 9.7 m (l) hillslope before and after rainfall events and compared potential for erosion or deposition to a topographic-based hydraulic parameter. Unlike the traditional linear hillslope model, the erosion-deposition potential varied between net erosion and net deposition as the hydraulic parameter was increased. Sustained net deposition occurred under drainage condition while net erosion was favored under the seepage condition. Incorporating the dependence of erosion and deposition on subsurface hydrology will improve the prediction of erosion at the landscape.

Review Publications
Bos, J.H., Williams, M.R., Smith, D.R., Armstrong, S., Harmel, R.D. 2021. Long-term effect of poultry litter application on phosphorus balances and runoff losses. Journal of Environmental Quality. 50(3):639-652.
Guo, T., Johnson, L., Lebarge, G., Penn, C.J., Stumpf, R., Baker, D., Shao, G. 2020. Less agricultural phosphorus applied in 2019 led to less dissolved phosphorus transported to Lake Erie. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. 55(1):283-291.
Scott, I.C., Penn, C.J. 2021. Estimating the variability of steel slag properties and their influence in phosphorus removal ability. Chemosphere. 276. Article 130205.
Penn, C.J. 2021. The past, present, and future of phosphorus removal structures. Water. 13(6). Article 797.
Penn, C.J., Frankenberger, J.R., Livingston, S.J. 2021. Introduction to P-TRAP software for designing phosphorus removal structures. Agricultural and Environmental Letters. 6(1). Article e20043.
Penn, C.J., Scott, I., Huang, C. 2020. Development of a regeneration technique for aluminum-rich and iron-rich phosphorus sorption materials. Water. 12(6). Article 1784.
Wang, B., Li, P., Huang, C., Liu, G., Yang, Y. 2020. Effects of root morphological traits on soil detachment for ten herbaceous species in the Loess Plateau. Science of the Total Environment. 754. Article 142304.
Wang, L., Yen, H., Wang, X., Huang, C., Sun, J., Hammac II, W.A., Wang, Y. 2020. Deposition- and transport-dominated erosion regime effects on the loss of dissolved and sediment-bound organic carbon: Evaluation in a cultivated soil with laboratory rainfall simulations. Science of the Total Environment. 750. Article 141717.
Hanrahan, B.R., King, K.W., Williams, M.R. 2020. Controls on subsurface nitrate and dissolved reactive phosphorus losses from agricultural fields during precipitation-driven events. Science of the Total Environment. 754. Article 142047.
Hanrahan, B.R., King, K.W., Macrae, M.L., Williams, M.R., Stinner, J.H. 2020. Among-site variability in environmental and management characteristics: Effect on nutrient loss in agricultural tile drainage. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 46(3):486-499.
Macrae, M., Jarvie, H., Brouwer, R., Gunn, G., Reid, K., Joosse, P., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Smith, D.R., Williams, M.R., Zwonitzer, M. 2021. One size does not fit all: towards regional conservation practice guidance to reduce phosphorus loss risk in the Lake Erie watershed. Journal of Environmental Quality. 50(3):529-546.
Osterholz, W.R., King, K.W., Williams, M.R., Hanrahan, B.R., Duncan, E.W. 2020. Stratified soil sampling improves predictions of P concentration in surface runoff and tile discharge. Soil Systems. 4(4). Article 67.
Williams, M.R., King, K.W. 2020. Changing rainfall patterns over the Western Lake Erie Basin (1975-2017): Effects on tributary discharge and phosphorus load. Water Resources Research. 56(3). Article E2019WR025985.
Zhang, X., Lopes, I., Ni, J., Yuan, Y., Huang, C., Smith, D.R., Chaubey, I., Wu, S. 2021. Long-term performance of three mesophilic anaerobic digesters to convert animal and agro-industrial wastes into organic fertilizer. Journal of Cleaner Production. 307. Article 127271.
Nouwapko, S.K., Huang, C., Bowling, L., Owens, P.R., Weltz, M.A. 2021. Inferring sediment transport capacity from soil microtopography changes on a laboratory hillslope. Water. 13(7). Article 929.
Dold, C., Wacha, K.M., Sauer, T.J., Hatfield, J.L., Prueger, J.H. 2020. Measured and simulated carbon dynamics in Midwestern U.S. corn-soybean rotations. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 35(1). Article e2020GB006685.