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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

2021 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. Objectives 2: Elucidate the complex interactions of climate, soils, plants, and land management that influence the agroecosystems, such as weed suppression, nutrient capture, nutrient use efficiency, soil carbon capture, pollinator provisioning, and other ecosystems services in traditional and novel agricultural systems.

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
Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1A. Initiated a new experiment with a University of Minnesota collaborator to evaluate five different accessions of winter camelina for winter hardiness, flowering time, maturity, and yield. Two of the lines were mutants selected for early maturity; two lines were the parents of the mutants; and one line was a standard check (Joelle) that has been used in previous research. Freeze survival was adequate for all accessions. One of the early mutant lines flowered two weeks earlier than the check line (Joelle) and harvested about one week earlier. Earlier maturity of winter camelina will open more opportunities for double-cropping systems. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1A. Conducted a multilocation field experiment with ARS collaborators from Fargo, North Dakota (SPBR Unit) to determine the winter survivability of different winter canola genotypes and assess their ability to suppress spring and early summer weed emergence and growth. Added winter camelina that is known to have excellent winter hardiness and ability to suppress weeds to the study as a check. Collected winter oilseed growth, yield information, weed emergence and density data for both sites. Additionally, the ARS collaborators collected canola plant samples at both locations for molecular analysis. Data is being analyzed for publication. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1B. Completed a multilocation field study conducted with university partners to determine optimum nitrogen fertilizer rate and time of application for fall-planted winter camelina. Currently, data is being fully analyzed for publication. Results show that winter camelina seed yield and oil content are optimized by a rate of nitrogen of 60 lbs./ acre. This is best applied in the spring (around mid- to late April) just prior to when plants begin bolting (i.e., stem elongation) to optimize nitrogen-use efficiency of seed production. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1B. Completed a multilocation field study with a university collaborator to explore the use of chemical desiccation of corn to hasten its harvest and allow earlier establishment of winter camelina. Results demonstrated that applying desiccant at the early R5 (dent) stage of corn when grain was at 1/2 to 3/4 of solid starch development, allowed corn to be harvested one to three weeks earlier than its nontreated counterpart. Thus, this allowed earlier establishment of camelina. However, desiccating corn at the stage of 1/2 solid starch development of the grain led to a significant (16%) yield reduction. Prepared and submitted a peer-reviewed manuscript, which was accepted for publication. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1B. Identifying new uses for seed meal byproduct following oil extraction will help to develop new winter oilseeds and generate farmer adoption. Conducted a multilocation greenhouse experiment with a collaborator from St. John's University in Minnesota to explore the use of pennycress and winter camelina seed meal as a soil amendment to inhibit weed seed germination and emergence. Mixed soil with ground seed meal of each winter oilseed species at 0 (control), 1, 5, and 10% (wt/wt). Planted weed seeds of foxtail, lambs quarters, and velvet leaf in replicated pots filled with the soils. Measured weed total emergence and rate of emergence during a two- to three-week period after planting. Initial results revealed that both oilseed meals at the 5 and 10% inclusion in soil almost totally inhibited weed emergence. The 1% amendment slightly reduced total emergence but also reduced weed emergence rates. We also plan to test the effects of the seed meal soil amendments on emergence of commodity crops including corn, soybean, and spring wheat. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1B. Completed a multilocation experiment with university cooperators to evaluate the tradeoffs of using early maturing corn hybrids with and without post-harvest stover removal to improve winter camelina planting and establishment. Initial results demonstrated that corn that matures earlier than a typical full-season hybrid does sacrifice some yield but allows improved establishment and hence yield of winter camelina. Higher camelina seed yield may compensate for any loss potential loss of revenue due to lower corn yield. Measured soil carbon dioxide emissions and carbon sequestration in the study. Treatments with corn stover removed after harvest did facilitate improved camelina establishment too. However, this practice removes carbon from the system. Results of soil gas flux measurements indicate that winter camelina as a living cover on the soil reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and thus, may partly compensate for the loss of carbon associated with stover removal. Results are being fully analyzed for manuscript preparation. Related to Objective 1 Subobjective 1B. Initiated new experiments with university collaborators (University of Minnesota, Illinois State University, Western IL State University, and Ohio State University) to investigate pennycress establishment after relatively early maturing corn (i.e., earlier than typical full-season) and where corn residue following harvest has been managed with shallow vertical tillage tillage and broadcasting versus direct drilling of seed are being evaluated. Collected data on corn yields, pennycress establishment and yields for the first year of the study and are being processed. At all locations, corn grain yield was not sacrificed by using corn hybrids 8 to 10 days earlier than the most common full-season hybrid used for a given region. This allowed earlier planting of pennycress and better autumn-establishment.

1. Winter oilseeds suppress early season weeds. Researchers at Morris, Minnesota, are developing winter camelina and pennycress as oilseed cash cover crops that can add both economic and environmental benefits to Midwest cropping systems. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, collaborating with university partners demonstrated that winter oilseeds used as cash cover crops can suppress weeds, including herbicide resistant ones. The study was conducted over three sites in southern and central Minnesota. Pennycress as an overwintering crop, reduced early season (spring and early summer) weed growth by 97 to 100%, while winter camelina suppressed weeds by 85 to 87%. When used as cash cover crops, these oilseeds can reduce farmers’ herbicide use and help control herbicide resistant weeds. Results benefit farmers, agronomists, extension educators, and others interested in adopting this new cropping practice.

2. Oilseed cover crops interseeded into standing corn and soybean reduce the potential for global warming and water pollution. In the Upper Midwest, establishing cover crops after corn and soybean harvest is difficult because corn and soybean are harvested in late fall, leaving little time for planting covers. Instead of waiting until after harvest, ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, co-led a multiyear multilocation study with university partners to study environmental and agronomic impacts of interseeding winter camelina, pennycress, and rye as cover crops into standing corn and soybean. When compared with conventional corn-soybean or soybean-soybean rotations, systems that included the interseeded cover crops had lower water pollution potential (4-9%), less soil erosion (5-32%), and lower global warming potential (4-9%) as estimated by “cradle-to-gate” life cycle assessment. However, on an economic basis, when camelina and pennycress were relay interseeded with soybean the following spring in a dual crop system, results were less favorable. Lower economic-based performance of the relayed dual crop system as compared to a conventional corn-soybean rotation was mainly due to low winter oilseed establishment and depressed soybean yields the following year. This information has pointed researchers in new directions to develop better timing and planting methods to improve cover crop establishment in corn-soybean cropping systems. It also benefits extension educators, farmers, and crop consultants interested in cover crop adoption.

3. Winter annual cover crops scavenge excess soil nitrate nitrogen when interseeded in corn-soybean systems. Unintended loss of excess soil nitrate nitrogen (N) from corn-soybean systems in the upper Midwest by leaching and runoff into ground and surface waters where the N becomes a pollutant is a major issue. Cover crops can potentially reduce soil N, preventing it from contaminating ground and surface waters, while diversifying corn-soybean systems. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, collaborated with university researchers from Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota to demonstrate that winter camelina, pennycress, and winter rye interseeded into standing corn and soybean crops in the fall scavenge excess soil nitrate nitrogen (N) left behind by these crops. Three out of four field sites showed a significant decline in soil N (up to 76%) due to uptake and sequestration by cover crops as compared with a traditional winter fallow corn-soybean or soybean-soybean rotations. Most of the N scavenging by the cover crops occurred in spring when soils are most susceptible to N leaching and runoff. Results benefit farmers, agronomists, extension educators, and others working to incorporate cover crops into corn and soybean rotations.

4. Desiccating corn improves winter camelina establishment. Planting winter camelina as a cover crop after corn is challenging because corn is often harvested in late fall leaving little time to establish cover crops before the soil freezes. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, collaborated with a university partner to demonstrate that chemical desiccation of corn at the mid-R5 development stage allowed corn to be harvested earlier and provided an extra one- to three-week period to plant camelina. This led to better camelina establishment and improved seed yield as compared with previous studies of interseeding camelina into standing corn prior to its harvest. Furthermore, desiccating corn at mid-R5 did not decrease its grain yield or test weight. Results will benefit farmers, researchers, agronomists, extension educators, and crop consultants looking for ways to improve cover crop establishment in corn-soybean cropping systems.

5. Winter camelina seed oil for food or fuel depends on where it is grown. Camelina is a new oilseed being developed in North America and Europe for food and energy uses. Saturated vegetable oil lends itself better for making biofuels, whereas unsatured oil high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is favored for food uses. ARS researchers at Morris, Minnesota, designed a study and collaborated with scientists in North America and Europe to determine the impact of growth environment (i.e., soil and climate) on winter camelina seed oil content and quality. Generally, hot and dry growth environments led to greater saturation of camelina seed oil, which may be better suited for making biofuels. Environments characterized by cooler temperatures and longer growing seasons with evenly distributed precipitation favored production of unsaturated oil, better suited for healthy food uses. Results benefit growers and specialty oil industries for targeting the best regions to produce camelina for food and fuel uses and provide crop breeders and other researchers with a better understanding of how environment impacts oilseed quality.

Review Publications
Allen, L.H., Boote, K.J., Jones, J.W., Jones, P.H., Pickering, N.B., Baker, J.T., Vu, J.C., Gesch, R.W., Thomas, J.M.G., Prasad, V.P. 2020. Sunlit, controlled-environment chambers are essential for comparing plant responses to various climates. Agronomy Journal. 112(6):4531-4549.
Cecchin, A., Pourhashem, G., Gesch, R.W., Lenssen, A.W., Mohammed, Y.A., Patel, S., Berti, M.T. 2021. Environmental trade-offs of relay-cropping winter cover crops with soybean in a maize-soybean system. Agricultural Systems. 189. Article 103062.
Cecchin, A., Pourhashem, G., Gesch, R.W., Mohammed, Y.A., Patel, S., Lenssen, A.W., Berti, M.T. 2021. The environmental impact of ecological intensification in soybean cropping systems in the U.S. Upper Midwest. Sustainability. 13(4). Article 1696.
Forcella, F., Patel, S., Lenssen, A.W., Hoerning, C., Wells, M.S., Gesch, R.W., Berti, M.T. 2021. Weather and landscape influences on pollinator visitation of flowering winter oilseeds (field pennycress and winter camelina). Journal of Applied Entomology. 145(4):286-294.
Gesch, R.W., Wells, M.S., Hard, A. 2021. Desiccation of corn allows earlier direct seeding of winter camelina in the northern Corn Belt. Crop Science. 61(4):2787-2797.
Hoerning, C., Wells, M.S., Gesch, R.W., Forcella, F., Wyse, D.L. 2020. Yield tradeoffs and weed suppression in a winter annual oilseed relay-cropping system. Agronomy Journal. 112(4):2485-2495.
Mohammed, Y.A., Patel, S., Matthees, H.L., Lenssen, A.W., Johnson, B.L., Wells, M.S., Forcella, F., Berti, M.T., Gesch, R.W. 2020. Soil nitrogen in response to interseeded cover crops in maize-soybean production systems. Agronomy. 10(9). Article 1439.
Patel, S., Lenssen, A.W., Moore, K.J., Mohammed, Y.A., Gesch, R.W., Wells, M.S., Johnson, B.L., Berti, M.T., Matthees, H.L. 2021. Interseeded pennycress and camelina yield and influence on row crops. Agronomy Journal. 113(3):2629-2647.
Walia, M.K., Zanetti, F., Gesch, R.W., Krzyzaniak, M., Eynck, C., Puttick, D., Alexopoulou, E., Royo-Esnal, A., Stolarski, M.J., Isbell, T., Monti, A. 2021. Winter camelina seed quality to different growing environments across Northern America and Europe. Industrial Crops and Products. 169(1). Article 113639.