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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Jonesboro, Arkansas » Delta Water Management Research » Research » Research Project #441813

Research Project: Optimizing the Management of Irrigated Cropping Systems in the Lower Mississippi River Basin

Location: Delta Water Management Research

2022 Annual Report

1. Develop improved management practices for irrigated cropping systems (e.g. rice, soybean, cotton) in humid subtropical environments. 1a. Develop and evaluate irrigation management systems and determine their influence on crop yield and quality, and water quality. 1b. Determine impacts of conservation management practices on crop yield, quality and climate resiliency, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water quality. 2. Develop and expand robust datasets focused on water use efficiency, air and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and other sustainable cropping system metrics in humid subtropical environments. 2a. Contribute to long-term water quality assessments of cotton- and rice-based cropping systems. 2b. Integrate greenhouse gas emission, yield metrics, and phenotypic architecture datasets to improve models, scaling factors, and tools for current and future climate scenarios. 3. Develop and deploy agronomically sound irrigation and drainage management tools, practices, and technologies that improve water resource management and return on investment in a changing climate. 3a. Devise techniques and/or tools to identify, inventory, and create conservation milestones for agricultural water resource management in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB). 3b. Evaluate the utility of multiple strategies for managed aquifer recharge in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (LMRB).

To optimize the management of irrigated cropping systems in the Lower Mississippi River Basin, research must aim to sustain or improve agricultural production and natural resources through optimized management practices that sustain yield and grain quality while reducing inputs and environmental risks. Research will focus on field-scale to farm-scale quantification of water quantity, water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions in response to crop management. Comparisons of production practices in rice-based and cotton-based systems include irrigation automation, nutrient management, crop establishment, tillage, cover crops, and residue management will be investigated. Improved understanding of aquifer decline and solutions to arrest decline through watershed planning that focuses on return on investment and managed recharge will be studied. Data collected on the impact of these practices will be curated into robust datasets that will be used to devise tools and technologies and improve existing models. This research is expected to augment the existing body of knowledge of agricultural water resources, inform resource managers and provide farm managers with new tools, practices and technologies that will reduce groundwater use and produce a profitable crop.

Progress Report
Optimizing the Management of Irrigated Cropping Systems in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (6024-13000-004-000D) will run from 4/08/2022-4/07/2027 and replaces Preserving Water Availability and Quality for Agriculture in the Lower Mississippi River Basin (6024-13000-003-00D) that ran from 4/19/2017 to 4/18/2022. Objective 1: Continue to work with farmers to improve understanding of water management and the influence it has on water use, greenhouse gas emission, and yield. Hosted the 5th International Paddy Rice Research Group America Sub-group Meeting at our unit (see details in accomplishment below). Collaborative research is being conducted on ten Arkansas farms and one experiment station in conjunction with farmers and various state, federal, NGO, and corporate partners/colleagues. Established and continue to work with the Mid-south Irrigation Automation Working Group (MIAG). Established an undergraduate internship program with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to host four students for approximately 10 weeks of research with the unit. Also established a “Women in STEM” internship with the local high school and hosted three students. Established long-term quantification of impacts of multiple conservation practices that include reduced tillage, cover cropping and vegetative buffer strip on water quality, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and lint yield in irrigated cotton. Modified measurements of atmospheric trace gas fluxes to suit dry conditions and year-round data collection. Deployed a Nitrous Oxide sensor capable of measuring this important greenhouse gas flux at the field scale. Quantified the short-term influence of conservation management practices on soil C and nutrient uptake of irrigated cotton for improved NPK fertilizer application. Identified fields and conducted studies on contribution of furrow irrigation and cover crop practice on water use, yield and greenhouse gas emissions in drill seeded rice systems. Collaborated with private companies (Yara North America, RiceTec) and non-profit organization (Cotton Inc) in the field research focusing on mitigating strategies through crop management practices that reduce water use, greenhouse gas emissions and improve yield in irrigated rice and cotton in the region. Research on irrigation automation continues and is expected to result in two publications and multiple outreach efforts. ARS researchers continue to serve on the Technical Advisory Committee of the National Cotton Council, Field to Market, Arkansas Soil Health Alliance, and USA Rice. An ARS researcher from the unit received the 2022 Award for the Advancement of Surface Irrigation from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the 2022 Rice Researcher of the Year at the 25th Annual National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference. Objective 2: Continued collection at long-term sites in cotton and rice-based cropping systems. We identified and conducted side-by-side field studies to determine changes in water use, yield, grain quality, and greenhouse gas emissions managed under conservation rice cropping practices. Continue water quality research at multiple scales-plot scale (in collaboration with Arkansas State University (ASU) and University of Arkansas (UA), Edge-of-field (EOF) (in collaboration with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), ASU and UA), and in-stream or sub-watershed (in collaboration with NRCS, ASU, and UA). Collected weather datasets and published manuscript that discussed the current trend of night air temperature in major rice growing states in the U.S. Determined that there was a major shift of ambient night air temperature in California and Arkansas during 67-year period of rice growing. Recruited graduate students and foreign rice agronomist to investigate studies on high night air temperature effects on genotypic and phenotypic properties of 310 rice accessions and 10 commercial hybrid rice. Collected and analyzed field and greenhouse datasets that quantify genomic and phenomic responses of different rice accessions and cultivars on high night air temperatures. Curating historical eddy covariance data for publication and sharing through established networks. Re-locating one of our Conservation Effects Assessment Project watersheds from a site that used primarily groundwater for irrigation to a surface water dominated region that is part of the Cache Critical groundwater area (CGA). Re-located two eddy covariance towers to the Cache CGA at sites where we have EOF monitoring. Objective 3. This objective generally considers Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) and the use of Geographical Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) techniques to improve agricultural water management. Interest and use of MAR in the region has grown. The unit has been able to contribute to this effort due to our ongoing efforts in this area of research. Construction of two infiltration galleries (IGs) was completed this Fiscal Year. The IGs are located in the Cache River Critical Groundwater Areas (CGA) in an area where rivers do not supply enough flow for large diversion projects that are being implemented in the central part of the state, namely the Grand Prairie and Bayou Meto Irrigation Project. Water was injected into the alluvial aquifer from February-April (limited due to water quality concerns). The second season of injection will begin in November of 2022 and run through April of 2023. Funding for the construction was partially provided through grants from Cotton Inc., and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The use of IGs is being considered as one of the five strategies to promote groundwater sustainability through a 799 Watershed Study that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering. Additional progress in this objective was made through the use of GIS and RS in collaboration with Arkansas State University faculty. A manuscript describing an automated tool to identify on-farm reservoirs was developed and replaces the manual identification of these systems from previous studies. Additional work is underway on using lidar to assess grading of rice fields and to provide a historical review of reservoir construction in the region.

1. 5th International Paddy Rice Research Group (PRRG) America Sub-group Meeting. ARS researchers in Jonesboro, Arkansas, hosted the 5th International Paddy Rice Research Group (PRRG) America Sub-group Meeting on 12-14 July 2022 and led the effort in developing regional collaboration among seven Global Research Alliance (GRA) on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases member countries in the Americas. ARS researchers organized a GRA council meeting and field tour for foreign rice scientists studying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in paddy rice cultivation. The unit, with sponsorship from the Office of National Programs and the Secretary of Agriculture, planned and executed the meeting. The meeting was chaired by ARS reseachers and collaborators. Co-Chair of the PRRG and Co-Lead, USDA-ARS Representative for the GRA PRRG America’s sub-Group and Director of Latin America Fund for Irrigated Rice. The meeting was attended by 34 participants in person, and 16 participants virtually, representing eight countries and six partner organizations of the Group. Several invited representatives from institutes of the host country also attended the meeting. GRA Member countries attending: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Peru, Uruguay, USA. Invited representatives’ organizations: RiceTec, New Leaf Symbiotics, NERREC, GCF, WRI, EDF, DBNRRC, University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Arkansas State University-Jonesboro. Important outcomes of the meeting were the sharing of results of field GHG studies across the America regions and the development of an initial America sub-group research project proposal titled: Climate-smart intensification of rice production in Americas. It was also agreed by the group to identify and contact representatives of other GRA and non-GRA countries in the Americas who have not yet participated in PRRG research activities. These countries are Bolivia, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Review Publications
Richardson, W.P., Reba, M.L., Runkle, B.R. 2022. Modification of a wavelet-based method for detecting ebullitive methane fluxes in eddy-covariance observations: application at two rice fields. Boundary Layer Meteorology. 184:71-111.
Williams, M.R., Welikhe, P., Bos, J.H., King, K.W., Akland, M., Augustine, D.J., Baffaut, C., Beck, G., Bierer, A.M., Bosch, D.D., Boughton, E., Brandani, C., Brooks, E., Buda, A.R., Cavigelli, M.A., Faulkner, J., Feyereisen, G.W., Fortuna, A., Gamble, J.D., Hanrahan, B.R., Hussain, M., Kohmann, M., Kovar, J.L., Lee, B., Leytem, A.B., Liebig, M.A., Line, D., Macrae, M., Moorman, T.B., Moriasi, D.N., Nelson, N., Ortega-Pieck, A., Osmond, D., Pisani, O., Ragosta, J., Reba, M.L., Saha, A., Sanchez, J., Silveira, M., Smith, D.R., Spiegal, S.A., Swain, H., Unrine, J., Webb, P., White, K.E., Wilson, H., Witthaus, L.M. 2022. P-FLUX: A phosphorus budget dataset spanning diverse agricultural production systems in the United States and Canada. Journal of Environmental Quality. 51:451–461.
Quintana-Ashwell, N., Gholson, D., Kaur, G., Krutz, L., Henry, C.G., Cooke, III, T., Massey, J., Reba, M.L., Locke, M.A. 2022. Irrigation water management tools and alternative irrigation sources trends and perceptions by farmers from the Delta regions of the Lower Mississippi River Basin in South Central USA. Agronomy. 12(4):894.