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Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics in Organic Crop and Forage Production of the Northern High Plains Ecoregion, Wyoming and Nebraska

Investigators
Norton, Urszula
Institutions
University of Wyoming
Start date
2010
End date
2013
Objective
This research compares organic far

ming to reduced-tillage and conventional approaches, both in transition and in long-term use, in agroecosystems of eastern semiarid Wyoming and western Nebraska. We assess the relative impact of these systems on soil quality, C sequestration and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Our approach utilizes established frameworks of on-station research trials in transition from conventional to reduced tillage and organic practices, and on-farm organic and reduced-tillage systems in long-term use by area producers. Results will provide much needed inventory of GHG emissions and C storage and will support development and improvement of predictive biogeochemical, water use, and economic models for irrigated and dryland cropping systems. These outcomes will support producer decision making and government planning for possible incentive programs. They will also highlight specific needs for development of practices and technologies for improvement of environmental services with organic practices.

We believe it is important to evaluate organic practices side by side with both conventional and reduced-tillage approaches for two reasons: 1) to determine whether organic production practices achieve environmental services provided by reduced-tillage practices already incentivized under USDA conservation programs and the CCX, and 2) to investigate possibilities for better integrating reduced-tillage practices into organic production.

Research components include measurement and modeling of: 1) soil C processes, including sequestration and GHG emissions to quantify performance of organic production relative to conventional and reduced tillage systems; 2) water use efficiency to determine short- to long-term feasibility of both irrigated and non-irrigated production in this moisture-deficient environment; 3) field- and farm scale economics to determine the need, timeframe, and level of possible incentives for transition to sequester C in organic production; and 4) energy input:output and C footprint impacts to determine true environmental impacts or services resulting from the practices.

On-station research (transitional impacts) will take place within the framework of a long-term study comparing the three approaches established at the University of Wyoming James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in 2009. On-farm research (long term impacts) will take place on the farms of producers in Wyoming and Nebraska who are actively collaborating in studies of conventional, reduced-input, and organic approaches to irrigated crop and forage production and dryland winter wheat production.

The proposed project builds upon the on-going on-station research and established relationships with farmers. It will benefit from research data currently being collected that are critical to complement the proposed set of measurements to validate biochemical and economic models we are proposing and will strengthen the quality of data inventories we are to build.

More information
Non-Technical Summary: This research compares organic farming to reduced-tillage and conventional approaches, both in transition and in long-term use, in agroecosystems of eastern semiarid Wyoming and western Nebraska. We propose to evaluate the relative impact of these systems on soil quality, C sequestration, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Rising costs of fuel, fertilizer, and related inputs, along with declining and unreliable sources of irrigation water, threaten the economic viability of agriculture in this semiarid region. In response to pressures that squeeze profit margins, producers are seeking alternatives that decrease costs, increase yields, or increase value while conserving water. Organic production that incorporates reduced-tillage and crop-forage components may achieve these goals, while at the same time providing important environmental services of sequestering carbon (C) and offsetting GHG emissions. It is known that similar services provide alternative income streams via C markets or incentive payments in other parts of the US, but the magnitude of these services relative to conventional practices is not well documented for the Northern High Plains region. Our approach utilizes established frameworks of on-station research trials in transition from conventional to reduced tillage and organic practices, and on-farm organic and reduced-tillage systems in long-term use by area producers. This three-year project integrates four research components in both transitional (on-station) and long-term (on-farm) settings under irrigated and dryland production. Research components include measurement and modeling of: 1) soil C processes, including sequestration and GHG emissions to quantify performance of organic production relative to conventional and reduced tillage systems; 2) water use efficiency to determine short- to long-term feasibility of both irrigated and non-irrigated production in this moisture-deficient environment; 3) field- and farm scale economics to determine the need, timeframe, and level of possible incentives for transition to sequester C in organic production; and 4) energy input:output and C footprint impacts to determine true environmental impacts or services resulting from the practices. On-station research (transitional impacts) will take place within the framework of a long term study comparing the three approaches established at the University of Wyoming James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) in 2009. On-farm research (long term impacts) will take place on the farms of producers in Wyoming and Nebraska who are actively collaborating in studies of conventional, reduced-input, and organic approaches to irrigated crop and forage production and dryland winter wheat production. The proposed project builds upon the on-going on-station research and established relationships with farmers. It will benefit from research data currently being collected that are critical to complement the proposed set of measurements to validate biochemical and economic models we are proposing and will strengthen the quality of data inventories we are to build.

Approach: 1. Document and model soil quality, C sequestration, and GHG associated with organic production practices. This work combines monitoring of soil GHG emissions and SOM dynamics in irrigated and dryland agriculture. Data from organic transition comes from plots established in 2009 at SAREC. Data from long-term organic management comes from fields of collaborating farmers in both states. Some data on soil quality and economics will be supplied by current or recently completed projects, while GHG, water use, and energy ratio/C footprint data will be collected under this proposed work. Data will contribute to documentation of effects of both irrigated and dryland organic production practices on soil quality and C sequestration, and will be used to validate DayCent biogeochemical model for predicting C storage and GHG emissions in the northern High Plains region. 2. Document and model the soil water dynamics, water use, and water use efficiency associated with organic production practices. This study monitors soil moisture in dryland and irrigated cropping systems. Data will be collected from on-station experiments established in 2009 at SAREC and from on-farm of collaborating farmers in Wyoming and Nebraska. The information will contribute to documenting the effects of different cropping systems on soil water dynamics and water use and water use efficiency. 3. Document and model economic and energetic parameters of organic production. This work analyzes the overall profitability and efficiency of organic, reduced-tillage and conventional systems for the study area. Economic performance will be measured both long term and during the period of transition. The economic analyses will include scenarios that include revenues for trading C based on the existing market and empirical data on C sequestration obtained in Objective 1. In order to better understand the full environmental impacts of these systems, the overall energy budget (C footprint and energy input-to-energy output ratio) will also be estimated. Policy makers can use this information to help create economic incentives that are able to offset the upfront conversion costs in order to elicit more producers to engage in organic and conservation tillage practices. 4. Develop extension materials. We will develop extension and outreach activities and materials for many learning styles. In year three, researchers and extension specialists on the team will work with the Cooperative Extension publications offices at the Universities of Wyoming and Nebraska to joint bulletins reporting research results. In project year three, team members with extension appointments will develop training workshops targeted at extension educators, producers, and consultants. 5. Develop curriculum modules for the agroecology courses. Capstone Agroecology Seminar is a required course in the interdepartmental agroecology major at the University of Wyoming. Students take the course during their last semester and the research activities and results will provide a framework for a class activity. In a semester-long site-study activity students will develop a projection of what will happen in their plots.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
WYO-00617
Accession number
223695
Categories
Chemical Contaminants
Policy and Planning
Education and Training