Lift ground cover and reduce drainage with pasture cropping

Pasture cropping — integrating direct drilled crops such as oats into summer-growing native pastures — increases annual pasture production, improves soil water use and nitrogen use compared with conventional systems.

Nearly one thousand Australian farmers are trialling the pasture cropping approach to lift profits and combat dryland salinity, waterlogging and soil acidification. Pasture cropping integrates direct drilled crops into summer-growing pastures to increase production. The system also increases ground cover, because mixtures of different types of plants better fill the available niches, thereby using resources more effectively….The results confirmed the value of pasture cropping as a strategy to reduce soil water in systems prone to waterlogging and deep drainage and indicated benefits for reduced soil acidification and increased soil organic matter.

Read full story here. 

Source: Farming Ahead, October 2005

Perennial Grain—Biggest Agriculture Breakthrough in 10,000 Years

PULLMAN, Wash. –Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Science.

Perennial grains would be one of the largest innovations in the 10,000 year history of agriculture, and could arrive even sooner with the right breeding programs, said John Reganold, a Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the paper with Jerry Glover, a WSU-trained soil scientist now at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

“It really depends on the breakthroughs,” said Reganold. “The more people involved in this, the more it cuts down the time.”

Published in Science’s influential policy forum, the paper is a call to action as half the world’s growing population lives off marginal land at risk of being degraded by annual grain production. Perennial grains, say the paper’s authors, expand farmers’ ability to sustain the ecological underpinnings of their crops.

“People talk about food security,” said Reganold. “That’s only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security.”

Perennial grains, say the authors, have longer growing seasons than annual crops and deeper roots that let the plants take greater advantage of precipitation. Their larger roots, which can reach ten to 12 feet down, reduce erosion, build soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.  They require fewer passes of farm equipment and less herbicide, key features in less developed regions.

By contrast, annual grains can lose five times as much water as perennial crops and 35 times as much nitrate, a valuable plant nutrient that can migrate from fields to pollute drinking water and create “dead zones” in surface waters.

“Developing perennial versions of our major grain crops would address many of the environmental limitations of annuals while helping to feed an increasingly hungry planet,” said Reganold.

Perennial grain research is underway in Argentina, Australia, China, India, Sweden and the United States. Washington State University has more than a decade of work on perennial wheat led by Stephen Jones, director WSU’s Mount Vernon Research Center. Jones is also a contributor to the Science paper, which has more than two dozen authors, mostly plant breeders and geneticists.

The authors say research into perennial grains can be accelerated by putting more personnel, land and technology into breeding programs. They call for a commitment similar to that underway for biologically based alternative fuels.

Source: http://researchnews.wsu.edu/physical/328.html 

Watch video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPpjGV3kvnw&lr=1

STRIPs at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Strategically integrating small amounts of perennial vegetation (in our case, reconstructed prairie) within row-cropped watersheds offers the opportunity to enhance the health and diversity of Midwestern agricultural landscapes. This project will explore this hypothesis through an integrated watershed-scale approach that uses field experimentation, spatial models, and tradeoff assessments to quantify changes in ecological functioning and economic outputs resulting from different configurations of perennial and annual plants. Integral to the project is the effective communication of project results in order to catalyze positive change on the landscape.

Read full research here.