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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #375947

Research Project: Optimizing Water Use Efficiency for Environmentally Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems in Semi-Arid Regions

Location: Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research

Title: Linking soil biological-health to essential functions in the southern high plains

item Acosta-Martinez, Veronica
item GHIMIRE, RAJAN - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/23/2020
Publication Date: 7/23/2020
Citation: Acosta Martinez, V., Ghimire, R. 2020. Linking soil biological-health to essential functions in the southern high plains. Meeting Abstract. 1.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The goal of the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agricultural (OWCAP) project is to identify best management practices for optimizing water use across the Ogallala Aquifer region (OAR) through multidisciplinary efforts. For example, our team has been conducting soil health assessments across the OAR to identify the complex interactions of management, soil, and climate that increase the soil microbial component and organic matter pools as indicators of improved essential soil functions, including biogeochemical cycling and soil water dynamics. This presentation will discuss the indicators and methods we are using to provide a soil health assessment within the OAR, focusing in particular on soils in transition from irrigated to dryland production collected from the Southern High Plains states of Texas and New Mexico. In Texas, we are working with three growers near Littlefield, TX who were provided NRCS funding to offset the cost of installing subsurface drip irrigation to split their land into center pivot, subsurface drip irrigation, and dryland production to better use water. Each grower site represents a unique scenario on how to best distribute their limited water across their land to maximize production, with cotton being the primary crop, and corn, sorghum, and winter wheat being secondary. Undisturbed land under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), considered here to be an ideal soil health system, had 3 times greater microbial community size and 10 times greater levels of a marker for arbuscular mycorrhizae (AMF) compared to the sites under crop production. Soil samples were taken in October 2018 and 2019, and we will sample again in October 2020 to determine if and how management and crop choices help compensate for the transition to dryland production, and how soil health is improved under CRP. In eastern New Mexico, research plots established in Fall 2015 with eight cover crop treatments (fallow, pea, oat, canola, and mixtures of pea+oat, pea+canola, pea+oat+canola, pea+oat+canola+barley+hairy vetch+radish) in winter wheat-sorghum rotations revealed improvements in terms of response of selected soil health indicators with cover cropping. For example, there was greater fungal abundance (12-40%), labile organic matter (17-20%), and AMF abundance (49%) with cover crops compared to fallow plots. Similarly, integrating livestock with crops increased labile organic matter and resulted in a shift in the microbial community structure. Our work show how efforts to improve soil health in hot, dry, semiarid regions of the Southern High Plains are possible with the adoption of management practices that diversify cropping systems and aim to conserve soil and water, and/or involving the integration of livestock with crop production and cover cropping.