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K-State and collaborators double down on making water, nutrients go further on Southern Plains farms

K-State and collaborators double down on making water, nutrients go further on Southern Plains farms
By Mary Lou Peter
 
New research aims to boost rainfed agriculture by improving efficiencies and soil health
 
Kansas State University is leading a multi-agency team focused on improving water and nitrogen use efficiencies and improving soil health in the semi-arid southern Great Plains.
 
The nearly $10 million five-year research effort is led by K-State University Distinguished Professor Chuck Rice and includes a transdisciplinary team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland.
 
The team will conduct research, teaching, and extension activities to:
  • Increase the growth of agricultural total factor productivity or TFP, from the current 1.5% to 2% per year and agricultural production by 2% annually;
  • Improve water and nitrogen use efficiency by 50%; and
  • Reduce losses due to environmental stresses by 20%.
The work is funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
 
Crop yields vary widely in the southern Plains, largely because of erratic weather patterns which complicate decision making for farmers. The constant uncertainty over how much – or how little – precipitation will fall pushes many farmers to grow winter wheat for both grain production and cattle grazing, but that provides relatively low nutrient use efficiency for the cattle and winter wheat can be subject to high weed pressure.
 
“Consequently, crop and food animal production in this region lags well below its potential, and 50% or more of the precipitation received by cropland is lost by evaporation from soil or is used by weeds,” Rice said.
 
The long-term goal of the new research effort, he said, is to sustainably increase the productivity of farms that solely rely on rainfall rather than irrigation in the southern Great Plains by improving the efficient use of water and nitrogen, plus reduce yield losses due to environmental stresses and enhance soil health.
 
The interdisciplinary team includes researchers, educators and extension professionals with expertise in agronomy, crop production, soil science, modeling, economics and sociology.
 
The multi-pronged effort will focus on developing effective management strategies for diversifying and intensifying southern Great Plains cropping systems; developing and using innovative sensors and modeling technologies for improved mid-season input decisions; providing information to farmers and others on the resulting information and technologies; and creating educational opportunities to recruit and train the next generation of scientists to work in agriculture.
 
The program will provide research experience for over 50 undergraduates recruited across the country and train over 20 graduate and post-doctoral students.
 
Other K-State researchers on the team are Ignacio Ciampitti, Romulo Lollato, Anita Dille, Andres Patrignani, Doohong Min, Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, Eduardo Santos and Vara Prasad.