Oklahoma State University scientists are teaming up with peer researchers at Kansas State University and USDA-Agricultural Research Service in El Reno to enhance cropping systems in the southern Great Plains.
“There is a critical need for integrated research, Extension and education efforts to identify and promote best management practices that increase agricultural productivity, optimize water and nutrient use efficiency, and protect against yield losses from environmental stresses and weeds, all the while improving soil health,” said Tyson Ochsner, Sarkeys Distinguished Professor of Applied Soil Physics with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
Researchers at the University of Maryland also are part of the multi-institutional team, funded by a nearly $10 million total five-year grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Approximately $1.9 million will be going to OSU.
Currently, the Oklahoma State team of interdisciplinary researchers and educators includes division faculty members Jason Warren, Brian Arnall, Josh Lofton, Beatrix Haggard, Misha Manuchehri and Alex Rocatelli of the department of plant and soil sciences, as well as Dayton Lambert, holder of the OSU Willard Sparks Chair in Agribusiness Studies, and Lixia Lambert, OSU assistant professor with the department of agricultural economics.
“We will doubtless use opportunities to engage more OSU expertise as the project progresses,” Ochsner said. “We’ve already added new faculty to the project who were not at the university when the grant proposal was written.”
Ochsner said the research project will have two parallel tracks. The first will be to study long-term producer decisions that take place over several growing seasons, such as the results of their choices about what crops they grow, crop rotation management and tillage practices.
“The second track will focus on in-season decisions such as planting dates, fertilizer applications and herbicide use,” he said. “Both are important time frames relative to managing a crop operation. Producers have to be able to adapt to changes happening in-season, and yet still be able to meet long-term goals and objectives.”
To help with in-season needs, the multi-institutional team of scientists will develop new technologies for crop monitoring and crop forecasting. Integrated with this effort will be on-farm studies and demonstrations.
“This is where OSU Cooperative Extension comes in,” Ochsner said. “Extension excels at taking research and turning it into practical applications usable by producers, who in this case will be working side by side with participating scientists and educators.”
In addition, a new sustainable cropping systems course will be developed that will be offered at both Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
“Students enrolled in the course will be able to visit the farm sites and see firsthand the results of operational decisions, as well as being able to interact with the producers themselves,” Ochsner said. “The result will be a real-world connection between theory and practice.”
OSU recently announced the university’s new Tier 1 Initiatives, which includes rural renewal among its emphasized efforts that recognize “timely, impactful, engaged research” or TIER.
“The research initiative funded through the NIFA grant aligns with the university’s Tier 1 Initiatives exceptionally well,” said Keith Owens, associate vice president of the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system, which along with Extension comprise the two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“Agriculture is a critical part of the state economy, but annual variation in weather and commodity prices makes planning difficult,” Owens said. “Dr. Tyson and the research team on this project have identified a critical need affecting agricultural productivity. This project will have an immediate impact on farms and rural communities.”
The overall multi-state, multi-institutional project is being led by KSU Distinguished Professor Chuck Rice. In a press release, Rice highlighted the importance of sustainably increasing the productivity of farms in southern Great Plains states that rely on rainfall rather than irrigation.
“Crop and food animal production in this region lags well below its potential, and 50 percent or more of the precipitation received by cropland is lost by evaporation from soil or is used by weeds,” he said.
Agriculture is a major economic force in Oklahoma, growing more than $8 billion in new crops and livestock annually.