Crop yields vary widely in the southern Plains, largely because of erratic weather patterns that 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,” Kansas State University professor Chuck Rice said.
He 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.
A nearly $10 million five-year research effort led by aims to increase productivity, improve water and nitrogen use efficiency and reduce losses due to environmental stresses.
The work is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture and includes a team from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, K-State, Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland
The long-term goal of the new research effort, Rice 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.