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ARS Home » Plains Area » Sidney, Montana » Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory » Agricultural Systems Research » Research » Research Project #445767

Research Project: Climate-resilient Sustainable Irrigated and Dryland Cropping Systems in the Semi-arid Northern Great Plains

Location: Agricultural Systems Research

Project Number: 3032-21600-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Feb 8, 2024
End Date: Feb 7, 2029

Objective 1: Develop management strategies for dryland cereal, pulse, and bioenergy cropping systems that enhance agroecosystem productivity, climate resilience, soil health, and ecosystem services. Subobjective 1A: Increase cereal-based cropping system resilience using annual or perennial legumes and forages in response to changing precipitation patterns. Subobjective 1B: Determine novel management strategies that enhance soil C sequestration, improve N cycling, reduce GHG emissions, N fertilization rates, and the potential for N leaching, and promote soil health and quality in dryland cropping systems. Subojective 1C: Evaluate novel crop species, crop rotations, and sustainable dryland management practices that optimize soil biological health and enhance soil microbial biomass and function. Subobjective 1D: Improve crop WUE in dryland agro-ecosystems using novel crop species and rotations to improve cropping system resilience and adaptability. Objective 2: Develop alternative irrigated cropping systems for northern climates that optimize crop production while enhancing environmental sustainability and climate resilience. Subobjective 2A: Improve early-season plant vigor and final crop yield of NT crops to be more competitive with CT. Subobjective 2B: Evaluate the effects of reduced tillage and alternative cropping practices on soil compaction, bulk density, aggregate stability, saturated hydraulic conductivity, available water capacity and crop WUE. Subobjective 2C: Evaluate the effect of residue management and tillage on soil C sequestration and GHG emissions in a NGP irrigated cropping system. Subobjective 2D: Evaluate the impact of residue management and tillage practices on soil biological health and overall microbial biomass with an emphasis on specific functional groups involved in C and N cycling. Objective 3: Identify and evaluate indicators that assess improvements in sustainability and resilience of both dryland and irrigated cropping systems in a semi-arid environment. Subobjective 3A: Improve pollinator habitat in dryland and irrigated agro-ecosystems by establishing relationships between crop management practices and pollinators. Subobjective 3B: Develop dryland and irrigated cropping systems that reduce risk of pests in rotational crops. Subobjective 3C: Measure impact of stubble height on evapotranspiration (ETa) under field conditions using weighing lysimeters and develop coefficients (Kc) for crops listed under Hyp. 1.A.

Agriculture is facing challenges in providing food, fiber and fuel to a growing population due to increasingly limited water supplies, more frequent crop failures, and diminished land resources. Changes in consumer lifestyles and preferences are also impacting agricultural production. For example, longer life spans, rising incomes, and changes in dietary preferences, along with demands for improved nutrition and sustainably-produced food products require researchers to provide farmers with climate-resilient solutions that improve production efficiencies, crop quality, and ecosystem services. In the northern Great Plains (NGP), dryland and irrigated crop production both contribute significantly to the economic value of agricultural production. However, traditional dryland cropping systems with conventional tillage and crop-fallow are uneconomical and unsustainable. Similarly, while unallocated irrigation water resources in the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers offer opportunities to expand irrigated crop production in the MonDak region (eastern MT, western ND), intensive tillage practices used on most irrigated farms are also unsustainable because they lead to high input costs and soil degradation. Diversified dryland and irrigated cropping systems must be developed that are more resilient to changing markets and climatic conditions. Our research plan addresses these needs by utilizing cropping system field trials to develop scientifically-sound no-till dryland and irrigated cropping strategies that improve water, soil, and nutrient management by diversifying crop rotations to include cereals, pulses, oilseeds, forages, and biofuel feedstocks, and thus increase farm productivity and ecosystem services. The research will provide stakeholders with tools to reduce water, equipment, labor, and energy requirements while increasing crop yield and quality and improving soil and environmental ecosystem services. Outcomes and tools will be shared with and transferred to producer groups, partners and stakeholders through research publications, bulletins, online content, field tours, stakeholder meetings, agricultural symposia, and other outreach activities.