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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Stoneville, Mississippi » Crop Production Systems Research » Research » Research Project #446247

Research Project: Optimizing Conservation Management Practices for Improved Agronomic Performance and Enhanced Ecosystem Services of Cropping Systems in the Mississippi Delta Region

Location: Crop Production Systems Research

Project Number: 6066-21600-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: May 15, 2024
End Date: May 14, 2029

1. Determine optimal soil amendments in row crop fields for minimizing potential for off-target agrochemical release into downstream ecosystems. 1.A. Relate cover crop, gypsum, and biochar-induced changes in soil physical, chemical, and biological properties to the potential for the release of herbicides from soils. 1.B. Evaluate the impact of multi-species cover crop mixes of legumes, cereals, and legumes + cereals on soil biogeochemistry parameters and potential for off-target herbicide transport. 2. Identify conservation management practices that enhance ecosystem services within row crop fields in the Mississippi Delta and improve resilience to weather extremes. 2.A. Evaluate the effects of winter cover crop complexity on plant growth promoting endophytic communities in corn during the summer growing season. 2.B. Determine if changes in soil physical, biological, and chemical parameters resulting from conservation management practices impact pollinator resources in corn and cotton production systems. 2.C. Determine the effects of no-till and cover cropping on soil water storage in response to episodes of drought in cotton production systems.

Agricultural production of row crops can have deleterious effects on soil health and downstream ecosystems, ranging from depletion of soil organic matter and nutrients to increased erosion and transport of agrochemicals into downstream ecosystems. A variety of conservation and soil management practices have been put forth as options to ameliorate some of these negative effects, including no-till management, winter cover crops, and soil amendments such as biochar. However, these practices incur added costs to farmers. As such, there has been increased interest in determining how these practices can improve ecosystem services in order to maximize the benefits received from their implementation. The proposed research will evaluate how soil health improvements seen in response to these management practices contribute to a variety of these different services. There are key aspects within management and cropping systems that need additional attention to fully understand the nature of soil health’s effects on ecosystem services. Specifically, this research will address the impacts on: pesticide fate and transport; the performance of beneficial endophytic microorganisms; and the contributions of different management practices and cropping systems to the performance of pollinators and pollinator resources. Pesticide sorption/desorption in soil from cover crop and soil amendment plots will be assessed to determine which management practices are best at limiting the potential for off-target herbicide transport, and herbicide concentration at key drainage sites will also be assessed and compared to prevailing land management practices in the surrounding areas. The endophytic community composition in corn grown under different cover crop mixtures will be analyzed to determine if cover crop selection can be used to recruit and promote colonization of plant tissue with endophytic microorganisms involved in plant growth promotion and biocontrol of disease. In addition, pollen and nectar samples from various cover crop and summer crop species will be analyzed to determine the effects of tillage and winter cover cropping on nutrient quality in pollinator resources. The results of this research will provide valuable insight into the selection of cover crop and soil amendments to maximize ecosystem benefits while maintaining optimum crop productivity.