Colorado State University assistant professors received a $1 million grant to identify the best management practices for integrating cover crops in dryland cropping systems.
The funding was provided from the Natural Resource Conservation Service on a conservation innovation grant specifically targeted at promoting practices on farms that can improve conservation benefits. The research process will be collaborative, with different CSU professors working together and help from Kansas State University.
The research topic came up when producers contacted the NRCS saying that they were trying to adopt practices for crops used in wetter environments, said Meagan Schipanski, assistant professor of soil and crop sciences.
“People were telling them they were crazy to a large extent and they called to just kind of talk a little bit about what are the benefits and tradeoffs of growing these cover crops which their grazing to a large extent,” Schipanski said. “So that’s how it sort of came about and then all of the people in here work on different aspects of cropping systems and management systems. So we wanted to take a whole system view of how their managing different rotations basically out there.”
The next steps are having planning meetings to work out all of the logistics with farmers, and the research will involve working with all non-irrigated farmers in mostly eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska.
Six producers have already committed to using their land for research, and they are hoping to have a total of 10, Schipanski said.
“When you do this kind of research on land (the) University owns or manages, you can pretty much go in there and do what you want,” said Sarah Ward, assistant soil and crops professor and research team member. “But, when you’re working with a producer and actually do research on their farm, then you have to remember they still have to run their business, and you can’t go in there and do something that’s going to be major-league damaging or disruptive to their long-term ability to grow crops.”
Schipanski said their team is trying to find the most amount of data in the least invasive way possible.
The research will be interdisciplinary, with each member studying something different such as pollination, forages and livestock, soil fertility and biology and the influences on farmers using crop rotations.
For assistant soil and crop science professor Arathi Seshadri, she said she has interest in pollination and the diversity in soil nesting bees.
“This project is really interesting because Colorado has at least about 3,000 species of native bees that are not social, don’t live in boxes but are solitary,” Seshadri said. “There’s very little known about the interaction of grazing and how bees react to that.”
Schipanski hopes that at the end of the research process, they will have information on different management systems.
“At the end of this, hopefully we’ll be a resource to trying all sorts of different management systems in dry-land,” Schipanski said. “We’ll have some ideas and information about what are some of the benefits and tradeoffs across those different systems.”
Collegian Natural Sciences Reporter Seth Bodine can be reached online at email@example.com or on Twitter @SethBodine_120.