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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Morris, Minnesota » Soil Management Research » Research » Research Project #437622

Research Project: Optimizing Oilseed and Alternative Grain Crops: Innovative Production Systems and Agroecosystem Services

Location: Soil Management Research

2020 Annual Report

Our overall goal is to develop multipurpose alternative oilseed and grain crops and innovative crop management strategies to diversify agricultural systems, reduce and/or efficiently utilize agricultural inputs, and add new economic opportunities and agroecosystem services for crop production in the Upper Midwest region. Over the next five years our research will focus on the following objective: Objective 1: Identify sustainable alternative crops that complement corn and soybean and develop innovative production systems suitable for the Upper Midwest that efficiently use agricultural inputs and provide agroecosystem services, as well as new economic opportunities for end users. • Subobjective 1A. Identify alternative oilseed crop genotypes with improved agronomic traits such as abiotic stress tolerance and reduced seed shattering that optimize productivity. • Subobjective 1B. Develop new and improve existing practices for managing alternative oilseed crops and traditional crops to produce food, feed, and fuel while providing agroecosystem services (e.g., reducing soil erosion, scavenging excess N & P, and supporting pollinators). • Subobjective 1C. Develop new and improve existing double- and relay-crop sequences with winter oilseed cover crops while protecting soils, suppressing weeds, and promoting pollinator abundance and diversity throughout the growing season. • Subobjective 1D. Identify, select, and provide growers with new hulled wheat germplasm (Einkorn and Emmer) adapted to the upper Midwest with improved agronomic traits and nutritional value.

Our primary objective and overall goal is to develop new crops and innovative strategies to deploy them across the agricultural landscape to diversify Midwestern cropping systems, reduce or minimize negative impact, and improve economic and environmental sustainability while enhancing production. The following approaches will be taken to accomplish this: 1) identify new and alternative oilseed and small grain genotypes best suited for production in the Northern Corn Belt region, 2) develop best management practices for their production, and 3) integrate them with traditional crops into innovative cropping systems (e.g., double- and relay-cropping) to sustainably intensify crop production. These new crops and cropping systems will provide new economic opportunities, create healthier food choices, and increase agricultural input-use efficiency while adding agroecosystem benefits such as improved soil, air, and water quality and abundant resources to sustain healthy pollinator populations. Together, the outcomes of this research will enhance agricultural land-use efficiency and benefit U.S. farmers, rural communities, human health, chemical and food industries, as well as government and academia scientists.

Progress Report
A multilocation experiment involving sites in northern Florida, central Arizona, and Minnesota was conducted and data collected to evaluate growth and yield performance of 15 different spring camelina accessions under irrigated and non-irrigated field conditions. Twelve of the camelina genotypes were selected based on their drought tolerance, and three common genotypes were added as checks. In Minnesota from planting to harvest, precipitation was greater than normal and plants never experienced drought stress (no irrigation applied), which was a good environment to make comparisons under optimum growth conditions. Very few significant differences in seed yield were observed among genotypes which ranged from 870 to 1235 kg ha-1. However, time to maturity differed among several genotypes. The first year of data were analyzed for a multilocation study to evaluate the optimum level of nitrogen fertilizer for producing winter camelina and when best to apply the fertilizer. Results indicated that about 60 lbs of nitrogen per acre is necessary to optimize the economic seed yield of winter camelina and that the best time to apply fertilizer is in the spring just prior to the growth stage of bolting. A second season of the study was established last fall (2019) and data has been and will continue to be collected during the summer of 2020. A two-year field study was completed on double-cropping winter camelina with early maturing (EM) hybrid sunflower. In both years of the study the EM sunflower when double-cropped after winter camelina reached harvest maturity by the end of the growing season; whereas, full season sunflower hybrids did not. Total seed and oil yield this past year for camelina double cropped with EM sunflower was considerably and significantly greater than growing a single full-season sunflower. An invited presentation was given for this work and a proceedings paper published. A full peer-reviewed manuscript is in preparation. A study was initiated in 2019 and will be completed during the 2020 growing season to evaluate hastening corn harvest by using a harvest aid to desiccate, to allow direct-drilling establishment of winter camelina. This is a method we are exploring to promote improved establishment of winter oilseeds in cropping systems that include corn. Initial results indicate that this method promotes better seedling establishment and survival of winter camelina than interseeding into standing corn. In another experiment to explore better methods of winter oilseed establishment in corn systems, early maturing corn was grown along with normal full-season corn. After harvesting corn, some plots received stover removal while others did not, and camelina was immediately planted using an aggressive no-till drill. Grain yields of early corn were significantly lower than the full season corn. However, camelina establishment was far better following the early-corn harvest because of an earlier planting date, and, establishment was even better where stover had been removed. Another season of the study is being repeated at two different sites (southern and central MN), and when completed, a total economic assessment will be made. Plans were made with two organic wheat growers from Wisconsin to grow out seed increases and demonstration plots of Einkorn and Emmer spring wheat genotypes. Chemical analysis was completed on wheat and oat samples for dry matter and a nutrient partitioning experiment, while select samples were further prepared for 13C and 15N analyses. Also, initial data collection and processing was completed for a seed phenotypic characterization experiment for wheat, oat, and corn to link seed shape, volume, color, and chemical composition and develop predictive models.

1. Pennycress as a cash cover crop promotes sweet corn sustainability. Commercial sweet corn production often results in substantial fertilizer nitrogen losses that end up in ground and surface waters as a pollutant. Growing a cover crop after sweet corn harvest to utilize excess leftover nitrogen could prevent this issue, but producers are reluctant to do this for economic reasons. ARS researchers from Morris, Minnesota, in collaboration with University of Minnesota scientists demonstrated that pennycress, which can double as an oilseed cover and cash crop, reduces potential loss of leftover nitrogen from sweet corn production by about 42%. Moreover, the excess nitrogen that pennycress scavenges is enough to produce adequate seed yields without adding any additional fertilizer. Results are relevant to farmers, extension specialists, and crop consultants searching for cover crop options that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.

2. Improving pennycress seed germination. Field pennycress is a new winter annual oilseed that can function as both a cover and cash crop. Pennycress seed germination and hence plant emergence varies with the environment the seed is produced in; breeders and agronomists are trying to improve this trait. ARS researchers from Morris, Minnesota, collaborated with scientists from Spain to develop models to better predict pennycress seed germination based on temperature. Different models were developed based on location of seed production and whether the seed originated from the upper or lower part of the plant. Seeds developed under a temperate climate and originating from the upper (apical) portion of the plant exhibited earlier and faster germination, which are desirable traits for improving germination. Models developed provide tools that will be highly useful to crop breeders and other researchers focusing on seed selection for improved seed germination of pennycress.

Review Publications
Mohammed, Y.A., Miller, Z., Hubbel, K., Chen, C. 2020. Variety and weed management effects on organic chickpea stand establishment and seed yield. Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment. 3:e20035.
Edo-Tena, E., Gesch, R.W., Royo-Esnal, A. 2020. Germination patterns in seeds produced in apical and basal fruits of two Thlaspi arvense populations. Agronomy. 10:756.
Moore, S.A., Wells, M.S., Gesch, R.W., Becker, R.L., Rosen, C.J., Wilson, M.L. 2020. Pennycress as a cash cover-crop: Improving the sustainability of sweet corn production systems. Agronomy. 10:614.