Pasture-wheat intercropping for post-contract Conservation Reserve Program Lands

Final Report for LNC06-273

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $70,188.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jerry Glover
The Land Institute
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Project Information

Summary:

For this project we developed a viable pasture-wheat intercropping (PWI) system with potential for managing post-contract Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands and enhancing grazing systems. Pasture-triticale intercropping (PTI), no-till annual rotation (NT) and hay production (HP) systems were also used for comparison of impacts on yield, profitability, and ecosystem services. Pasture cropping systems had overall higher productivity compared to NT monocultures and improved soil health compared to HP systems. Pasture cropping systems required higher fertilizer applications than NT but no herbicide applications. Net returns were higher for the PWI system than for NT and HP systems.

Introduction:

The Conservation Reserve Program has largely been successful in restoring many critical ecosystem functions to millions of acres through the conversion of vulnerable croplands to diverse perennial plant communities—primarily perennial grass and forb plantings. In terms of ecological benefits, it may be argued that simply leaving these former croplands idle under perennial grass cover would be best. Current CRP contracts, however, will expire on as many as 16.1 million acres in the US and on nearly 3 million acres in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska by 2007. Aside from leaving the land idle and economically unproductive as it was during the contract period, land owners typically have two options for managing post-contract CRP lands.

Grazing or haying the CRP-perennial vegetation may be the best option for maintaining environmental benefits following contract expiration (Gilley et al., 1996), but can offer low economic returns. Another option is to convert the land back to annual cropland for greater economic return. In the past, nearly 66 percent of post-contract CRP grasslands have been converted to annual cropland with roughly 30 percent remaining in perennial cover (USDA-ERS, 2005).

Studies of the effects of CRP plantings on soil quality in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington illustrate the beneficial effects of perennial grass cover (Karlen and Parkin, 1996; Karlen et al, 1999). Deep rooted perennial grasses have greater access to soil resources over a longer growing season and in a larger soil volume than do annual crops such as winter wheat (Figure 1). Unfortunately, these benefits may be quickly lost once CRP plantings are converted back to annual cropping (Gilley et al., 1996; Randall et al., 1997). Shorter-lived and more shallow rooted, annual crops pose risks for significant nutrient losses below root zones (Dinnes et al., 2002; Crews, 2005). Their shorter growing season, as indicated by satellite images (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2005), also leaves large landscapes devoid of living plant cover resulting in poor habitat for wildlife, greater risks of soil erosion, and high demands for tillage or herbicides.

Benefits of CRP are most quickly lost following conversion to cropland when tillage is used to kill the perennial cover (Gilley et al., 1996; Gewin et al., 1999). Direct conversion to no-till annual cropping (direct seeding) maintains the soil quality benefits of CRP for longer periods of time (Gewin et al., 1996; Karlen and Parkin, 1996) but requires high chemical inputs and sacrifices many benefits of perennial plants, such as wildlife habitat and effective water and nutrient management. In contrast, haying or grazing post-contract CRP lands has been shown to be the best option for maintaining soil and water quality and wildlife habitat benefits of CRP (Gilley et al., 1996). Leaving the perennial cover intact also eliminates the need for tillage or large inputs of herbicides.

The post-CRP contract dilemma of accepting lower economic returns from grazing or haying the perennial cover or accepting the loss of environmental benefits under annual cropping could be resolved by pasture-wheat intercropping (PWI). Pasture-wheat intercropping has been adopted by about 1000 growers in Australia as a means of conserving resources and increasing profits. At least one grower in north-central Kansas has independently developed a similar system. Another grower, Jim Duggan, a major participant on this project, has implemented a pasture-wheat intercrop study on his land with Dr. Glover.

The Australian experience. Historical overgrazing in central west New South Wales resulted in the displacement of deep-rooted perennial grasses and forbs with weedy annual species. This dramatic change in vegetation resulted in widespread land degradation. Reestablishment of perennial pastures was an effective means of reversing some of that degradation but pastures were not as profitable as annual crops. To resolve this dilemma, innovative farmers such as Col Seis began to direct seed cool season grain crops such as oats and wheat into their warm season pastures (www.grainandgraze.com.au/ColinSeis.htm).
Dr. Sarah Bruce and others (Bruce et al., 2005) found that, in comparison with conventional cropping practices, pasture-cropping leads to higher total ground cover during the cropping season and increased total biomass outside of the cropping season. The increase in ground cover and overall productivity relative to annual cropping reduces risks of wind and water erosion, reduces weed pressures and increases soil organic matter levels. Although pasture cropping can reduce total ground cover at times when compared to native pastures, pasture-cropping can increase total biomass and leaf litter. Pasture cropping also reduced nitrogen availability and soil water content compared to native pastures and conventional annual crops indicating that pasture-cropping may reduce the likelihood of water-logging, dryland salinity, loss of N through denitrification, and soil acidification developing—all are problems associated with annual cropping in the region.

There are now over 1000 Australian growers using some form of pasture cropping to combat the region’s severe land degradation problems. The system has also been adapted to non-native pasture systems such as intercropping with alfalfa and other perennial forage crops. Using the combination of perennials and annuals to integrate livestock and cropping operations on the same landscapes has improved profitability, increased management flexibility and maintained environmental benefits of continuous living plant cover.
Jim Duggan’s research efforts. Jim has been a no-till farmer for more than a decade. Although there are many benefits of no-till systems over conventional tillage, no-till systems still rely heavily on herbicides and fertilizers which can leak out into the surrounding environment. And, as with conventional systems, no-till annual cropping does not provide living ground cover over the entire year. This opens up opportunities for weed invasions and does not provide for wildlife habitat. Growing annual cover crops between crop cycles is difficult in the Great Plains given the variable weather patterns. Additionally, annual cover crops draw resources from the same soil layers as the annual crops and require additional field passes to plant and kill.

In response to these challenges, Mr. Duggan and Dr. Glover implemented research plots on a perennial hay meadow in November 2004. The purpose of this project was to determine how well a PWI system would perform relative to the other two land management practices Mr. Duggan was already using: haying perennial meadows and direct seeding annual crops.

Project Objectives:

Socio-economic Outcomes. In the long term, this project aims to maintain the ecological benefits of perennial plant cover while providing opportunities for significant grain yield on the same landscapes. This will be accomplished by drilling winter wheat (shallow-rooted and active during winter and spring months) directly into warm-season grasses (deep-rooted and active during summer months) shortly after haying or grazing. Referred to as Prairie-wheat Intercropping (PWI) in this proposal, this technique was independently developed by farmers in Australia and north-central Kansas. Impacts of PWI on yield and environmental benefits relative to standard haying systems, referred to here as HAY, and no-till annual rotation systems, referred to here as NT, will be documented. Diversification of farm operations on the same landscapes offers greater flexibility in dealing with annual weather variability, changes in market values of crop and livestock, and changes in purchased input costs.

Lands which have been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are the particular focus of this project although project outcomes would also be relevant for other perennial-based farming systems such as grazing operations. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS, 2005), CRP lands tend to have a net negative economic impact on rural communities during the contract period and, because they are often marginal lands, offer few management options without high risk of land degradation after contracts expire. New opportunities for producing solid yields of grain and hay on these marginal, formerly idle lands would have significant socio-economic impacts on farmers and rural businesses while maintaining the environmental benefits achieved during the contract period. Similar benefits could be realized from other lands currently used for perennial hay production or grazing and from marginal lands currently in annual grain production.

In the short to medium term, at least three growers will increase their understanding of PWI through direct participation in all aspects of the project. This core group of growers will be updated regularly on results, make recommendations, assist with management and help in getting information to other growers and researchers. At least 20 regional growers will become aware of PWI as an option for their post-contract CRP lands through field days and project reports, and we expect that at least 80 acres of PWI will be attempted on farms in the medium term. Mr. Duggan, the farmer who initiated this project, will also disseminate information among the no-till farming and organic beef producer communities in which he is active. Media attention for field days and subsequent inquiries will reach additional growers in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. An annual fall Prairie Festival at The Land Institute also attracts 400-600 visitors each year, many of whom are interested in or are engaged in farming practices. These visitors will be provided with field tours and discussions about pasture cropping systems.

These target outcomes may seem modest but given the untested potential of PWI practices in the southern portion of the North Central Region we prefer to match outreach efforts with research outcomes. Outcomes of a previous, related SARE-supported research project in the Northern Great Plains (LNC01-182) indicate more significant short to medium term outcomes are likely if field results are positive (Carr, 2003).

Scientific Outcomes. Natural resource professionals and the wider scientific community will become more aware of the agronomic, ecological and economic suitability of this system through sharing of preliminary data, published papers, conference presentations, and field tours. Initial reports will inspire more in-depth studies. Specifically, reports of research results linking seasonal soil water and nutrient availability to productivity of the grain and hay components will be produced for publication in peer-reviewed agronomy and/or soil science journals; an enterprise budget comparison will be compiled for publication in an agricultural economics journal; and changes in biodiversity associated with PWI practices will be summarized for publication in an ecology journal.

Research results will also be presented at national meetings of professional societies such as the Ecological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, and Crop Science Society of America. The Land Institute hosts approximately 60 undergraduate and graduate students working in the areas of agronomy, ecology, range science, and soil science each year for workshops and field tours. This research project will be a key component for those student experiences.

We expect the NRCS State Technical Committee to consider adoption of PWI techniques for conversion of post-contract CRP fields, and for Conservation Security Program rules.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jim Duggan
  • Laura Jackson

Research

Materials and methods:

This proposed project includes two research sites which have been in native vegetation, primarily warm-season grasses, for more than 20 years (Figure 2). Each site will have 3 production treatments replicated three times: 1) warm-season meadow (dominated by big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii) for hay production (HAY); 2) no-till (NT) annual rotation of soybeans-wheat-sorghum; and 3) pasture-wheat intercropping (PWI) system. Each experimental plot will be 4.5 m wide and 9.5 m long (43 m2).

A HAY treatment is included because of its proven environmental benefits. A NT system is included because previous research indicates it is an economically feasible option for former CRP lands and is more environmentally sound than tillage systems. We expect the PWI system to be more profitable than the HAY system but more environmentally sound than the NT system. We expect the PWI system to require fewer inputs than the NT system and perhaps become more profitable over the long term.

Site 1, owned by Jim Duggan, a North Central Kansas farmer, is on fertile, level bottomland (Class I) managed for warm-season hay for over 20 years. Plots were established in Summer 2004. Soils were sampled and analyzed prior to treatment implementation.
Site 2, owned and managed by The Land Institute, is on a sloping upland (Class IIIe) roughly 20 miles from Site 1. Treatments will be identical to Site 1. Additionally, participating farmers will be asked if they would like to see a fourth treatment, most likely a modification of PWI affecting planting time, density, or other cultural factor.

The project consists of four areas of study: 1) soil characteristics; 2) yield characteristics; 3) economic inputs; 4) plant community composition. Soil properties measured might include: Total N, inorganic N, organic C, readily oxidizable carbon, total P, Bray P, K, soil moisture, bulk density, aggregate stability, earthworm numbers, infiltration, and rooting density.

Three, 42 mm diameter soil cores to a depth of 1 m will be collected annually from each research plot in June and October. Soil cores will be cut into 0 – 10 cm, 10 – 20 cm, 20 – 40 cm, 40 – 60 cm, 60 – 80 cm and 80 – 100 cm sections. The three soil samples from each plot will be bulked by depth. Sample handling and pretreatment (e.g., drying, crushing) follow recommendations of Dick et al. (1996). A portion of each bulked sample will be used for analysis of gravimetric soil moisture content (Jarrell et al., 1999), bulk density (Elliott et al., 1999), inorganic nitrogen, and readily oxidisable carbon (Weil et al., 2003) at TLI’s soil laboratory. Another portion of each sample taken in June will be sent to the soil analysis laboratory at Kansas State University (KSU) for analysis of total organic nitrogen and carbon, Bray phosphorus and potassium at each sample date every year (University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station (UMAES), 1998).

Yields of hay and grain will be determined annually and enterprise budgets developed for each of the systems. Plant species composition and relative abundance will be measured twice per year prior to wheat harvest in June and again prior to haying in late August using random transects and permanent quadrats. Frequency, percent cover, and dry matter measures will be used to document the outcome of competition between annual grains, weeds, and pasture grasses.

The 43 m2 plots are large enough that the impacts (e.g., compaction, soil disturbance, crop damage) of repeated sampling operations each year are small and that effects of adjacent plots (belowground effects in particular) are minimized.

Mr. Duggan will oversee plot management. Dr. Glover will oversee soil, yield, and economic studies. Dr. Jackson will oversee plant community composition studies, rooting density studies, and project evaluation.

Research results and discussion:

A key result of this study was achieving viable yields of wheat grain and grass hay from PWI systems. We determined from on-farm trials that, using appropriate wheat cultivars, yields of 25 to 30 bushels per acre on typical CRP lands could be achieved in PWI systems with applications of 100 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre can be consistently achieved. These yield levels are economically competitive with no-till wheat monocultures, which require higher herbicide inputs and do not produce an additional hay crop following wheat harvest. Even on very poor sites, grain yields of 40 pounds per acre were achieved in PWI systems with 200 pounds per acre nitrogen fertilizer rates. Typical yield levels for NT systems were roughly 10 bushels per acre greater.

We also identified a wheat variety, Pronghorn, which perfomed much better in on-farm conditions and in research plots than the more widely grown variety, Jagger. This indicates additional improvements in the system could be achieved if other varieties were included in the field trials.

Soil health, particularly in terms of increased levels of active soil organic carbon, improved in all managed systems compared to soil health in the hay production plots (unmanaged CRP plots). Hay yields were also higher in the PWI plots than in unmanaged CRP plots.

Plant diversity of PWI plots did increase but generally resulted in negative impacts on wheat grain yield. Increased presence of cool-season perennial grasses increased diversity but competed heavily with early season wheat growth, which consequently significantly reduced grain yields.

Presence of tan spot disease (as indicated by % of flag leaf affected) was greater in PWI systems (54%) compared to NT systems (19%). Greater disease presence likely resulted from the wetter, cooler canopy conditions due to greater shading and ground cover in PWI plots. The increased disease pressure indicates that identification of suitable varieties with strong rapid growth and disease resistance will be important to the long term success of PWI systems.

We were initially concerned that the quality of hay harvested from PWI systems would be inferior to HP sysetems due to the greater presence of wheat straw in PWI systems. The greater availability of nitrogen in the PWI system, however, resulted in higher crude protein content (5.8%) compared to that measured (4.8%) in hay harvested from HP systems. The percent of netural detergent fiber was not significantly higher in PWI systems despite the presence of the wheat straw.

Literature cited.
Ajwa, H.A., Rice, C.W., and Sotamayor, D. 1998. Carbon and nitrogen mineralization in tallgrass prairie and agricultural soil profiles. Soil Sci Soc of Am J 62:942-951.

Bruce, S.E., Howden, S.M., Graham, S., Seis, C., Ash, J., and Nicholls, A.O. 2005. Pasture-cropping: effect on biomass, total cover, soil water and nitrogen. Proceedings of the 4th National Grasslands Conference: Grassland Conservation and Production, both sides of the fence, 11-13th October 2005, Burra South Australia.pp 141-147.

Carr, P. 2003. Enhancing grain production of Great Plains cropping systems with a legume-pasture phase—Final Report. SARE Project Number LNC01-182.

Crews, T.E. 2005. Perennial crops and endogenous nutrient supplies. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 20:25-37.

Dick, R.P., Thomas, D.R., and Halvorson, J.J. 1996. Standardized methods, sampling, and sampling pretreatment. In: J.W. Doran and A.J. Jones (eds), Methods for Assessing Soil Quality. SSSA Special Publication 49. Soil Sci Soc of Am, Madison, WI. pp. 107-121.

Dinnes, D.L., Karlen, D.L., Jaynes, D.B., Kaspar, T.C., Hatfield, J.L., Colvin, T.S., and Cambardella, C.A. 2002. Nitrogen management strategies to reduce nitrate leaching in tile-drained Midwestern soils. Agronomy Journal 94:153-171.

Elliott, E.T., Heil, J.W., Kelly, E.F., and Monger, H.C. 1999. Soil structural and other physical properties. In: G.P. Robertson, D.C. Coleman, C.S. Bledsoe, and P. Sollins (eds), Standard Soil Methods For Long-term Ecological Research. Oxford University, Oxford, UK. pp. 74-88.

Farm Service Agency. 2005. Summary of active and expiring CRP acres by state. www.fsa.usda.gov/crpstorpt/09Approved/rmepegg/MEPEGGR1. Accessed Oct 2005.

Gewin, V.L., Kennedy, A.C., Veseth, R., and Miller, B.C. 1999. Soil quality changes in eastern Washington with CRP take-out. J Soil Water Cons 54:432-438.

Gilley, J.E., Patton, B.D., Nyren, P.E., and Simanton, J.R. 1996. Grazing and haying effects on runoff and erosion from a former CRP site. Applied Eng in Agriculture 12:681-684.

Karlen, D.L., Rosek, M.J., Gardner, J.C., Allan, D.L., Alms, M.J., Bezdicek, D.F., Flock, M., Huggins, D.R., Miller, B.S., and Staben, M.L. 1999. Conservation Reserve Program effects on soil quality indicators. 54:439-444. J Soil Water Cons 439-444.

National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2005. http://www.nass.usda.gov/research/avhrr/

Randall, G.W., Huggins, D.R., Russelle, M.P., Fuchs, D.J., Nelson, W.W., and Anderson, J.L. 1997. Nitrate losses through subsurface tile drainage in CRP, alfalfa, and row crop systems. Journal of Environmental Quality. 26:1240-1247.

Skelton, L.E., and Barrett, G.W. 2005. A comparison of conventional and alternative agroecosystems using alfalfa and winter wheat. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 20:38-47.

Smit, A.L., George, E. and Groenwold, J. 2000. Root observations and measurements at (transparent) interfaces with soil. In A.L. Smit et al. (eds) Root Methods. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. pp. 235-271.

UMAES.1998. Recommended Chemical Soil Test Procedures for the North Central Region North Central Regional Publication No. 221(Revised). University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, Columbia, MO.

USDA-Economic Research Service. 2005. The Conservation Reserve Program: Economic implications for rural America. www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/aer834/aer834c.pdf. Accessed October 2005. AER-834.

Weil, R.R., Kandikar, R.I., Stine, M.A., Gruver, J.B., and Sampson-Liebig, S.E. 2003. Estimating active carbon for soil quality assessment: A simplified method for laboratory and field use. American Journal Alternative Agriculture 18:1-15.

Research conclusions:

We successfully developed PWI systems that consistently produced economically profitable yields. One of our initial goals of getting greater farmer adoption on at least 80 acres has fallen short, at least for now. Sadly, a primary reason for interruption in progress on farmer adoption resulted from the death of our primary farmer cooperator, Jim Duggan. Jim had been an effective advocate for the possibilities of this system since our first preliminary experiment carried out on his farm. He increased awareness of our research amongst the farming communities he interacted with and was instrumental in getting farmers to visit our research sites. Health issues also prevented another of our farmer cooperators from continuing his PWI system in Fall 2010 and since he provided the labor and equipment to manage the PWI system of another of our cooperators, we lost 3 of our cooperators in one year. We are still somewhat hopeful that when we have fully analysed our results and are able to communicate those results more widely to the scientific and farming communities we will find others as passionate as Jim.

The project PI, Jerry Glover, is currently on leave while completing a Science & Technology Policy Fellowship with USAID but we plan to submit proposals to carry out additional research in 2012.

Economic Analysis

Analysis of the economic performance of the pasture-wheat intercrop(PWI), no-till wheat monoculture (NT), and hay production (HP) systems, based on 2009 prices, indicate that using post-contract CRP lands simply for hay production would not cover production and land costs. The NT and PWI systems provide net positive returns of $20 and $33 per acre, respectively. Despite lower wheat yields in the PWI system, the subsequent hay yield, which is greater than the hay produced by the HP system, increases overall profitability. Lower weed management costs in the PWI offers an additional advantage. The profitability of both systems is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in nitrogen fertilizer costs. The PWI system, because it is a more diversified enterprise, provides greater economic security in years when wheat yields are low. A summary table of the economic analysis is appended.

Farmer Adoption

By Fall 2009, five local farmers had adopted PWI systems or were planning on doing so the following season, bringing to a total of 60 acres on which PWI had been adopted. As a result of field tours and presentations, farmers were generally receptive to the idea of implementing PWI systems on their post-contract CRP lands. Rhonda Janke (Kansas State University) conducted interviews with growers in the last year of the study to determine levels of interest and likelihood of future adoption. Below is a summary of the report, the full version of which is appended.

Summary of farmer interviews.
“We were a bit surprised that they didn’t suggest more NRCS involvement in promoting this system, especially given that it uses existing CRP ground, and might provide a solution for keeping highly erodible cropland in CRP once contracts expire.” The farmers in attendance were concerned in general about farm programs expiring, and the precarious nature of the payments that may or may not be there next year for CRP.
The farmers had many suggestions for ways to use the system in the future and to improving it, ranging from trying different annual crops (barley, a legume) to incorporating hunting leases and rotational grazing into the system and the economic accounting. Other suggestions and details are found in the quotes and won’t be repeated here, but there seemed to be consensus on the idea of spending as little as possible on the input costs, and see how the system performs.
The farmers in attendance were evenly disgruntled with K-State’s lack of interest in this work as they were in their local and state NRCS office, so both agencies/institutions have their work cut out for them in terms of building bridges to this group of farmers that would like to see low-input sustainable AND no-till farming work.
Overall, the impression was positive on this novel cropping system, and it seemed like we might be seeing it in some fields in the Salina area in the future. Further refinement by the Land Institute and K-State would help, especially when it comes to outreach and field days. However, farmer innovation and persistence will be the key to getting it to work in this challenging low rainfall, wheat disease prone area of Kansas.

Farmer interviews

Evaluation of Farmer Feedback on Pasture Wheat Intercrop Systems for Post-contract CRP Lands

By Rhonda R. Janke and Lynn Feldhausen, Kansas State University

Introduction and Methods:

Lynn and I had some in-depth conversations with Jerry Glover and Laura Jackson about the intent of the trials, background ideas, work in progress, etc, beginning in the fall of 2009. We discussed possible ways to get farmer feedback at field days meeting, and what kind of feedback would be most helpful. Due to the fact that many of the farmers already had seen the trials in the field plots, and the busyness of the season prior to harvest, it was decided to obtain feedback at a work-session/data presentation after the wheat harvest season, rather than at a field day. Lynn had also made a presentation to the Hort 690 Sustainable Ag class at KSU (taught by Janke) on this project and obtained a little feedback from the class on how to possibly get new farmers interested in this cropping system.

The data presentation was organized by Jerry Glover at the Land Institute on July 19, 2010. Several area farmers were invited as well as several individuals from NRCS, whom he had spoken to before. They are perceived as having interest since positive field trial results would encourage farmers to leave CRP ground in perennials and obtain a cash crop from it once the CRP contracts had expired.

Farmers attending on the evening of the 19th included Robert and Jim Dugan, Kathy and Charlie Melander, and John and Jim Robb. Of those attending, both John Robb and Dugans had wheat/CRP research plots on their farm. Robbs have converted most of their cropland to no-till and are interested in that aspect, and Melanders have collaborated with LI staff over the years on a number of trials. LI staff attending including Jerry Glover, John Mai and Ron Kinkelaar. The meeting started at 5:30, ended at 7:30, and refreshments were served.

The general plan for the meeting was for Jerry Glover to present the data from the LI and the on-farm trials, have a brief discussion, and then Lynn and I would sit with each farmer attending and record their answers to a brief, 5-question survey we had prepared to capture their thoughts about the trials and suggestions for improving the cropping system in the future. We also planned to assess the likelihood that they or their neighbors might implement this system, or one similar, in the future. As it turned out, since there were only six farmers attending, and were comfortable throwing out ideas and criticisms in front of each other and with Jerry, we started asking questions and bouncing ideas around during Jerry’s seminar, and then continued in the group discussion format to work through the prepared questions. Having a good working relationship with Jerry and with the LI prior to this field trial and this meeting were partly responsible for the high degree of comfort they felt, in spite of the fact that most of them were meeting me for the first time. Not having NRCS or anyone from KSU extension there (besides myself) might have also increased their comfort level in terms of criticizing both entities.

Farmers were informed that their answers to the questions would be taped and used as a part of the SARE report, and told that were free to not participate if they so desired. They were also told that their responses would be anonymous unless they wanted to have their names attached to certain ideas to get credit for them. We also asked if they were comfortable having Jerry in the room if they wanted to offer criticism, and they said they actually prefer that Jerry be present, since they have never held back their criticism in front of him before! The questions as prepared by Janke and reviewed by Feldhausen and Glover before the meeting were:

1. What were your initial impressions of this project when you first heard about it?

2. Did you see the plots in the field this summer? If so, what did you think?

3. Now that you’ve seen the data, has that changed your impression of this system?

4. Do you think there is a way to get this cropping system to work better in the Salina area, (on these soils, with this rainfall level, etc)? If you were going to try something like this, how would you do it?

5. Given what you know about the system, and your ideas for how to make it better, would you try this on your farm next year? If so,why? If not, would an incentive payment from NRCS to promote soil conservation make it worth your while to try it? How high would the incentive payment have to be? If you work for NRCS, do you think this is something that NRCS should support? Do you think it is politically feasible at this time to get this into something like the EQIP or CSP program?

In summary, our goal was to obtain an honest and critical assessment from the farmers regarding how this cropping system is functioning now under their local conditions, and to tap into their knowledge and creativity in terms of modifying it to work better in the future. This methodology would be considered a non-replicated focus-group interview. I have been involved in projects that used mail-out surveys, on-line surveys, and also focus groups, and find that the more distance between the researcher and the farmer, the less useful the information. Coming from a farm background, and also farming now myself, my preference is to “just ask them” when I have a question about what farmers think, so that is what we did. About 2 hours of digital recording resulted from the evening session. Our summary and impressions, including quotes as recorded during the focus group, follows. My questions and comments are in italics, Jerry’s responses and questions are in square brackets, and farmer quotes are in quotation marks. The criticisms are generally not attributed to any one individual, while helpful suggestions are credited to the speaker.

Farmer Responses at the Focus Group Meeting

Impressions of the field plots and the data

Somewhat surprisingly, their impressions were overwhelmingly positive. This is a new system to the US and to this area, and photos of the plots and the data showed all the warts and wrinkles. Wheat-grass competition can be intense, especially in areas where brome or other cool-season grasses are present, the wheat yields, except for this year when a more robust, taller wheat from Nebraska was included in the trials, were not impressive. Weeds can be an issue due to the nitrogen fertilizer and soil disturbance during planting. The economic data as presented show that there may be some problems, but that the integrated system can out-perform both hay only, and no-till wheat only systems, or at least lose less money, depending on the price of wheat and price of nitrogen fertilizer.

See details on data in Jerry’s SARE report. It should be noted that even in the farmer’s test plots, the yields were harvested by Land Institute staff using quadrat clippings located in the field using random numbers. Mike Jenson, one of the cooperators not at the meeting also had plots, and harvested his field with a combine, and got about 20 bushels per acre, including the bad spots. Land Institute staff only harvested the plots with wheat, not the cool season grassy spots. This all came out in the discussion of the data during Jerry’s presentation.

Basically, all six in attendance at this meeting answered “yes” or “positive” to survey questions 1, 2 and 3. I had expected one or more of them to have switched their viewpoint from positive to negative, or vice versa in comparing their impressions before the project, their view of the plots in the field, and their opinions after seeing the data.

More specific comments included:

What did you think about the idea or concept of this project

–“Worthwhile, very positive” – unanimous consensus as we went around the room.

Did you see the plots this summer, and if so, what did you think?

— “Certain plots looked very good. I looked at it from the road, (since it was) too wet to walk out there. I didn’t see the back-sides of the terraces where all the weeds were.”

— “You should have put a sign out there?” [Jerry: I wanted to wait until we knew they worked before we did that.”

— The east side of my place with the Jagger turned out better than another place where the weeds were worse. [you didn’t mind the weeds?] “Not from my front porch.” [John takes hay from this field every year anyway. Did you take a combine through it?] No

— [what did you think of the plots?] I was kind of surprised with them, the guys that are doing this, John and Jerry, they are getting them figured out, how to compete with the weeds, quit using the stuff (the wheat variety) from K-State, its all full of disease. It (variety from Nebraska) looks a lot better, the stubble even looks better. They’re getting the seed to soil contact thing figured out too. We did that years ago, but they are getting that figured out now. [note: they drilled it deeper, needs more weight, still find seed laying on top of the ground.]

— “They did better than a lot of the farmers, most farmers this year, including us, got the crops in late, didn’t get our wheat planted, it was too wet. Their wheat looked as good or better than other farmers. Most farmers plant ‘Jagger,’ and it got ate up with rust.” [The ‘Pronghorn’ (variety from Nebraska) didn’t get the rust? Jerry: I’m concerned with non-regional cultivars, (like the one from Nebraska) being susceptible to local diseases though too, but this year might have been an exception]

–“Also, their plot was isolated from other wheat plots, have hay meadows all around it. They didn’t have any wheat-on-wheat farmers around them, though I’d like to drag one over there. The continuous wheat people are causing big problems for themselves. [too much disease?] Yes, and they are doing burn-disk to get out of the fire temporarily (break the disease cycle), but when we get a wet year, they are right back in it. That is the laziest way to farm there ever is. [they don’t rotate?] No, they burn, disk, plant, then watch TV. They don’t do anything else. But I think this year might have cured them. They saw their costs triple what they saw in the past, and their yield dropped to a third. There won’t be much wheat planted next year.”

Note: conversation digressed a bit on the idea of rotations vs. continuous wheat:

— “There is a lot of continuous wheat still around; for 50 or 60 years, no rotation. [Jerry – I see a lot of that, in 5 or 6 different counties, not much rotation.] Charlie – for a long time the government program didn’t allow you to rotate. If you had milo in the rotation and didn’t have a base, you had to stay in wheat.”

— “Some of the younger producers are still locked in, don’t feel they have the option to rotate. We have it on our (license) tag “the wheat state.”

— “But in 1918 Kansas produced more corn than any other state. Kansas used to be a corn state. In the 20’s all the corn left Kansas after they tilled up Oklahoma and Texas, all the hot air blew up here and killed the corn.”

Responses to Question 3 – Now that you’ve seen the data, has that changed your opinion?

— “I guess it has changed my opinion a little bit. [In what way?] I didn’t think wheat would be a very good option to put into CRP. I just don’t believe in grass on grass. It looked like it could work. Probably in Kansas, it’s a plus.”

— “I want to see what happens to Charlie next year! [laughter] I hadn’t thought of what he is thinking of.” [note: see comments in section below where Charlie discussed a field that he might use next year to test this concept. This discussion came up during Jerry’s presentation, so is out of order in terms of the questions we asked.]

— “I’ll have to get this ‘Pronghorn’ (Nebraska variety) seed.” [Jerry: Pronghorn is going to be tough to get here, have to drive up Nebraska to get it.]

— John Mai: there’s this one other question – what about trying TAM111, a variety bred for western KS, is taller, that’s one other thing you need is the height, to keep the combine out of the grass, might be more disease resistant. It is a grazing variety, can put your cattle out on it. [Can you get it around here?] They grow it about 100 miles west of here. The variety is originally from Texas. But I’m intrigued by what Charlie is talking about here, I think it needs to be tried.” [Jerry: I’d like to do some cultivar trials with TAM 111 this next year] Charlie: “Why not try that on my 80?”

— “Jim: what changed my opinion is what they’re NOT going to do with CRP next year. They are changing the program, and there isn’t going to be any more money. We’re going to have to do something to offset that. What you’re talking about here will help that, because we’re going to have a train wreck with all this ground coming out.”

— Kathy: “I didn’t know that much about it to begin with, but the statistics look very encouraging, and I’m excited to try this.”

— Charlie: “The data doesn’t sway me one way or another because we’re flooded with data all the time, and it changes daily.” [laughter]“In fact, Jerry changed the data just a few minutes ago!” (referring to doing a few pricing scenarios on the excel spreadsheet during his presentation – “what data do you want to see? What does your banker want to see?”)

— John Robb: “The data was interesting, it was my first year trying this, and with what Jerry and John are going, it looked great. I wasn’t going in to it to make any money, just do an experiment with these guys, for all of us to learn from. The numbers didn’t influence me, whether it is a good thing or bad thing. Everyone wants to see big high yields on something brand new, but you got to start somewhere.”

— Jim Robb: “Well, you got a 2010 data point. I saw the data, and being a producer, I’m trying to figure out something that will help. I have some notes and suggestions. May I take a moment? [Looks like you’ve anticipated my fourth question –what are your suggestions for this cropping system for the future?]

Jim’s suggestions here:

— I’m please that you used a higher planting rate. On the fertilizer, in the fall, use dry with seed, but if you have a cover of what growing there, use liquid, get a 2-3% yield loss, may burn a little bit, but you aren’t going to lose any of it, and you aren’t going to feed the grass underneath, the wheat will get all of it. In the spring, apply not one, but two applications about 30 days apart, and do a tissue test to see what is missing downstairs. A strip header might help you with harvesting [but will leave more straw in the field?] Yes. [and taller?]. The folks in the KC area, are using red clover, broadcast on in Feb, get a fertilizer boost, but might mess ups the hay.”

— “I’d like to throw out another winter crop to entertain – barley. It’s planted after your wheat is planted, gives you more time for weed control, harvested a week before, and leaves the ground really mellow, like after soybeans, its beautiful. The straw decomposes rapidly. We use it as a double crop. It uses less water, since it is planted later and comes off earlier, could be useful in a drought year. We’ve grown it, and some of my better yields, I get between 58 and 80 bushels per acre. This is post-1980’s with improved varieties. Oklahoma State if releasing a variety called ‘Eve,’ and KY has one, ‘Dan,’ not protected, you can plant it however you want. It is beardless. The ethanol plants like it too. [how tall is the straw?] I didn’t see the test plots at that time of year. Those are my comments. Thank you.”

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Other Suggestions for this cropping system in the future

These are basically their responses to question #4, and made up the majority of the discussion both during and after Jerry’s presentation. They had many creative ideas, some of which touched on how this system might fit into a whole farm plan, not just a field of CRP.

Note: Jerry is already using a high seeding rate (120 lb/a, about twice normal) and using heavy no-till drill to establish the plots. He is doing this based on experiences in the past.
His current standard fertilizer application is 100 lb/A split application of diammonium phosphate (NH4)2HPO4, in the fall at the time of seeding (50 lb) and in spring, 50 lb of urea. This year added nitrification inhibitor ‘Agritane” on fertilizer in the fall. Also compared no N, 50 N, 100 not split or split, 200 lb all in fall or split [see Jerry’s report for more details]. He is now thinking that spring N application may be more important than fall, so may try 25:75 ratio. No wheat yield at all with no N, even though there are a few legumes present (Illinois bundle flower, Desmodium sp., etc,) in the CRP mix. Spotty success in the past may have been because used uncoated urea, and depending on the weather, much of it may have been lost.

His yield goal of 30 bu/A was obtained with ‘Pronghorn” wheat variety this year at the 100 lb/A N level, but he also got higher yields with higher N. He also had impressive yields with the triticale the year before, but isn’t continuing with it in the plots since there isn’t much market or price for it.

Farmer comments: (comments during Jerry’s presentation):

— “In general, I’m thinking of trying triticale in places where we have erosion now, has more robust root system than wheat.”

— “You could go in with your nitrogen coated, about any time you can get on the ground (and not worry about fall/spring ratio or rate) If you wait to apply it in March, it may be a swamp.” [but Jerry noted that in perennial grasses can get in the field more early and more often, don’t have to worry as much as in annual crops]

— “Can you emulate some of the crop rotations with the perennials, including legumes, like the ones we see in South America being adopted by no-till farmers?” [Jerry noted that you’d need a warm season legume in this system, so it isn’t competing with the wheat in the CRP here, could perhaps increase ratio of bundleflower in the mix, hope that when it is harvested as hay, could release some N in the fall, eliminate at least the fall fertilizer application]

— “In addition to replacing the fertilizer, you need to figure out how to stop the use of pesticides. That is one of the things they are doing in South America too, with cover crops. Using it to replace nitrogen and pesticide.” [difference between this one and the ones in South America is that it has the perennial in it, a perennial/annual hybrid, not just annual-annual-annual with no-till, certain things you can do with this, or use in combination with annual no-till rotations]

— [question addressed to Jerry] “What is your long term goal with this cropping system?” [Jerry: for farmers to have no need to plow out their CRP, for them to yield enough grain to have financial incentive to leave it in] we are told that all CRP ground will not be funded next year [want to present an option to farmers, so they don’t have to plow it out, it has to pay, has to be profitable] “It will be tough to get them to not plow it out, it is all they know.”

– [Jerry presented tan-spot data, worse in wheat/grass, still get N stress at 100 lb/a, low N makes tan spot worse, cool-moist shaded areas also harbor disease, contrast to wheat monoculture with more bare ground, one farmer noted darker heads in intercropped plots, indicates rust infection, seemed worse than wheat no-till comparison plot] Are these varieties resistant to the wheat diseases? More or less than Jagger? [developed in Nebraska for their diseases, not ours? Will KSU take Nebraska varieties and breed some disease resistance into them?]

— [Discussion of hay yield response to N application – yields go up in both hay plots and intereseeded plots, since hay can take advantage of N that the wheat doesn’t use. Note that K-State doesn’t usually recommend applying N to warm season pasture grasses due to lack of pay-back, not lack of yield response. If the wheat was there, might make more feasible. These data are from CRP land planted to native grass and forbs in the 1980’s]

— [question from Jerry – if straw is left in the field when take off the hay, have slightly higher NDF, or higher fiber, but the crude protein goes up significantly, increasing quality. Farmer comments on this were that on paper, the hay may be of higher quality, but horse hay buyers won’t buy it if it has straw, due to perception of lower quality. Also note that Jerry’s price estimate on the budget for large round bales of prairie hay of $45 per ton were low, as some good quality prairie hay may bring as much as $70 (but would be discounted for straw).] “A lot of things come into play here, can’t mix straw with native grasses.”

— [Jerry’s budget with $7/bu wheat showed profit with notill wheat and with wheat/CRP interseeding, but CRP for hay was slightly negative net profit. Farmers asked him to plug in $5/bu wheat, and all three were negative, with no-till wheat having the highest losses, interseeding in-between, and hay only the least negative.] “If there is $5 wheat, there won’t be much wheat planted next year.”

— [My question to the group: Is the cash rent in this budget realistic? (was at $45 per acre cash rent in Jerry’s example)] “No, them’s all K-State numbers. Cash rent is closer to $75 to $90.” [What about CRP rental rates?] “Those are pretty low; usually $45 or lower. They have CRP contract extensions now, but they are doing one-year at a time.”

— [Me: What about Roundup costs?] “Estimate $13 per application, times 3 applications. Jerry’s budget numbers look about right, and explains the input cost difference between the no-till wheat and the wheat/CRP interseeding.”

— “There’s a lot of variables you don’t have in there….if you have tilled ground, you can’t get on the ground when it is wet. You should have a tillage treatment, cause all those CRP guys are going to run iron through that ground.” [Jerry: I didn’t do that treatment, because the idea is to keep the ground in CRP, and it would have increased the cost of the experiment. Will be difficult to plow up CRP, other’s research has shown that herbicide takes it out cheaper and more effectively than plowing]

— [Jerry: If we re-run the budget with $60 hay, then the CRP hay treatment comes out positive or breaking even] “I need to make reference to these guys in South America again, they are using cattle in these systems, and it is making things start to work. They are doing these two things together, along with what you got here. Its going to make everything make more money. A lot of guys don’t want to have cattle, but younger guys will, and they’ll get rid of their corn-fed cattle. That is what you’re doing here Jerry, diversifying the rotation. [my question: where will you put the cattle in this rotation?] “Put them in plots, where you could move them every ten days, rotational grazing. [It might also be a way to manage the cool season perennial grass/weeds?] “We’re doing that now. That is one of the things you’ll have to look at in the future, electric fences, solar powered chargers, and at the end of the day you’re making a lot more money.”

— “This big hole is how to get the water in to it, have like a big wheel, get water in to the middle of it.” [water on CRP ground could be a big issue, many do not have a water source] “We’re doing it now, NRCS will pay to put this in, buried lines and tanks.”

— [note: Charlie had talked NRCS into allowing grass strips into the program instead of terraces; they hadn’t done that before. Jerry: Don’t you think NRCS could afford a small payment to promote this? If these grass strips make money 4 years out of 6, but you need a little financial support, but not as much as you need with the present CRP. Are your strips in the EQIP program?] Charlie: “They would call them buffer strips now, and they aren’t in the program any more.” He went on to explain how he put them in after he took out his terraces, and kept the tilled section of each slope section a constant width, to fit his equipment, and varied the width of the grass strip to accommodate the shape of the field and slope. This avoids having point rows and odd-shaped planting and harvesting patterns.

— “Another thing I want to mention here today in passing – hunting leases. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of money, and they’re all hunters. We need to figure out how to get our hands on some of that. With rotation grazing, with buffer strips…….these lend themselves to game production. We just need to figure out how to do it!”

— Charlie: “If you sold our ground with the strips, you’d get more money than without, even with less farm acres. It’s just a beautiful situation, where you see the strips on the contour. It’s a wildlife paradise. And it stops the erosion.” [what kind of grass?] “All native grass.”

— [Jerry to Charlie: do you see something like this working on your grass strips? ] “I’ve got that field in milo now, but why don’t I just plant the whole 80 to wheat this fall, right over the grass strips, and see what happens on my grass strips?” [what nitrogen rate do you use, would you increase the rate] No just use what I use now, 50 lb; I split, put 5 lb in fall with my drill, and 45 in spring topdress. I’d just go round and round the 80, don’t need to plant on the contour [what about NRCS?] I’m out of the contract. [How wide are the strips?] The farming strips are about 125 foot wide, parallel, it is the grass strip that varies, the sharper the hill, the wider the grass strip, between 40 foot and 200 foot.”[what are you going to do about the wheat stubble in the grass strips? What will the hunters say?] I’m the only one that hunts there, I’d just leave the stubble.

— [how much do people pay to hunt?] “Lots.” [Is it on a week to week, or on an annual basis?] Some like a lease so they can keep everybody out, they’re camping out there. [Like how much?] “ People don’t tell; it is on a cash only basis. These guys have pickup trucks with safes behind the seats full of $100 dollar bills.”

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Comments and suggestions continued – continued response to question #4:

— Charlie: [anything beside the grass terraces we discussed.] “I like to cut expenses. If I do this, it will be with the same expense account I use to grow wheat. I know the advice is to double my nitrogen, but I’m not going to do that, because that won’t be a fair comparison. I want everything to be the same. That’s one reason why I want to go around the field and plant with the same depth setting and everything.” [what seeding rate would you use?] “I use 60, but I’m thinking I could up that to 65 or 70.” [but you aren’t going to double it?] “No.” [Jerry: Even if you aren’t getting a high yield in your system, it makes sense to keep it simple, even if you only get 10 bu wheat on the grass strips. You don’t want to be changing it for wheat planted on the strip vs. off the strip, for ease of management.]

— Bob (or Jim?) “ I have a point I’d like to make. Based on 15 years of no-till, residue management is something you don’t forget. A straw spreader behind the combine, and a straw chopper and chaff spreader, you have to have those to get any of this to work right.” [Jerry: we’ve had problems with that with our small plot harvester. It takes your weeds and puts them in one spot, and then you’ve got a nightmare. Most of the farmers in the room already had the equipment, or the custom cutters they use have it.]

— Charlie: “I’ve been concerned about residue after the combine for a long time, and a half a dozen years ago I bought a Dingleman harrow. It’s got harrow teeth or tinges on it, a bout that (a foot?) long on it. You can set the machine aggressive or not aggressive Like this summer, on my really heavy wheat residue, I ran over it with that, even though I have a chaff spreader, I want to bruise the straw and spread it as much as I can. I’m also trying to degrade the wheat stubble.

— “What kind of chaff spreaders do you have? [New Holland.] “We use those air driven chaff spreaders from Saskatchewan, it’s a lot more efficient. I wish all farmers would look at that. There is one belt, no hydraulics, and we’ve been using it for 10 years. They are light-weight, and they really work.”

— “All the new combines are going to rotor, so the straw comes out in a lot better shape than the old rasp bar. It becomes a problem. Bigger headers concentrate that chaff. They also have these 80 foot wide rakes. They rake all their no-till to get that straw off. They go around in circles. With a chaff spreader on a combine, you don’t need to do that trip. The more we can do for residue management, the better it makes everything.”

— [Jerry: I will say, in our plots, its not a problem, because you are going through with a swather, about 3 weeks to a month after the wheat harvest, your taking it all off. In the fall, it looks just like a hay meadow.]

— “I’d like to hear a testimony for strippers. They really help that. They just take the head off, and everything else stays. You have no chaff, and no straw. [Jerry: some years we’ve done quite a bit of damage to the hay, because we were forced to cut low to get the wheat, and then you have to wait longer for the hay to recover, which puts you into less good quality hay, so if you could just strip those heads and do less damage to the hay.]
“And you could take a little combine and put a big header on it, put 20 foot on a 16 foot combine.”

— “There is another reason to leave that straw on there, it is a benefit, you have all that fertilizer to grow everything, you need to take advantage of that.”

— [Jerry: with a perennial system you don’t need to rely as much on the surface residue like in an annual system, in our system, plus after hay harvest, you have re-growth of the perennial grasses. With hunting, you may have nesting concerns, one thing we haven’t addressed, how disruptive is this system to birds and nesting? All the planting, fertilizing, harvesting. Me: some have found that after the June nesting season, late summer activities don’t’ matter?]

— Bob: “The fish and game dept. found that in western Kansas a decline in pheasant and quail when the headers on the combine went past 24 feet. The reason is they put wheels on the edges, and were able to cut lower. Here is what pheasant and quail eat – its not grain, its bugs. When you cut wheat under 17 inches, the bugs die because the sun gets to the ground.”

— [Jerry: in this system, you do have more provisioning for wildlife because you are providing more food at those lower levels…..Bob: “and you’re not going to put the header down….” Yes, the combine header stays as high as you can get it. Now the swather is just a normal type of swather. Within that level, you’d have a lot of very active living plant material that supports those insects that those birds live off of. But you’re going to be forced to harvest the wheat when it is ready, regardless of the bird population.]

Constraints and possible ways to talk to other farmers about the merit of the system:

This includes their response to question #5 – “knowing what you know about the system now, and your suggestions for making it better, would you try this on your farm? What incentives would it take?” and also comments sprinkled throughout the session on why their neighbors do or don’t try new things, and ways that they personally became convinced to try something new like no-till.

What would it take for this system to be more widely adopted? Would your neighbors try this?

— “Not without arming people, forcing people to do it. Farmers don’t change. Did you hear the deal on the tractor when it come out? Do you know how long it took farmers to change from using horses to the tractors? 35 years! They don’t change quick.”

— “We need to be figuring out how to make more money. That is the key to this thing. If we don’t make a profit, we’re not going to be here.”

— [Do you think this should be part of EQIP program?] “I don’t like all that, all those people having jobs. They can run it all under one program. If they closed that conservation office over there I’d never know it. They’re not going to help farmers much longer. I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to have to help ourselves. What Jerry’s doing, what Charlie’s doing, we need to figure out ways to make a profit without the government, because they don’t help much. Unless we get some different people in there – we need to get a guy like Henry Wallace back, secretary of agriculture under FDR, he’s also the one that started Pioneer Seed. We need someone like that in there helping farmers. If we don’t have someone like that we’re dead. We used to have slaves, and they were black, but now they are white, and we call them farmers.”

— [So will you plant this next year on your place?] “Yes, if we had any CRP. I think for the neighbors it would be great, because they aren’t getting any money at all out of their CRP. [Do you think you could talk them into it?] If you got them to come over to the Land Institute they might, where they could see they don’t have to do a lot of work to get it. Getting the word out on the possibilities is the hard part.”

— “If we don’t get the older land owners involved in this, its not going to work. They are going to have to do some different thinking.”

— [question to Charlie and Kathy – will you try this on your farm, and would an incentive payment make a difference? How much would it need to be?] “We could get into a long conversation about government programs…….[laughter] The government programs are upside down. We reward production which is silly, we’re already growing as much as we can. All that money should be going to conservation. I would propose a really simple program where when you do your income tax, and you have an expense; fertilizer, pesticide, we set a standard for how many dollars will be spent on a Kansas farm for those. If you spend less than the stated amount, lets say $40 instead of $50, take that statement to the FSA office, and they reward you for it. Instead, we do it the opposite. If I put on an EXTRA $50, I get more yield and get paid more for it, plus rewarded for it by the government for the extra yield. Its backward. And then if I irrigate, I take money out of your pocket to do that.” [so first we reform the government, then the tax laws, and then the farm program?] “Yes, can we do that by next fall?” [laughter] (Well, Jerry IS going to Washington……)

— John – “I was happy with it, I’m impressed with it, will try it next fall. [would it matter if NRCS was involved would it help?] Doesn’t matter. “

— “We only have about 200 acres of grass and timber, and the rest, only about 24 acres qualified for CRP, do I didn’t get into the program. But there might be a few acres of pastures we could do this with, buy I’d probably go with soybeans. I wouldn’t keep it for hay, I don’t have a market for it. On my crop ground, I continuously double-crop. I see this as a transition from pasture ground into full (no-till?) production. [You’d eventually get rid of the perennial grass?] We only have 30 acres we could break out. The rest is waterways, ponds, creek, timber. But this could help those folks coming out of CRP, so they have an alternative they might not have had otherwise. It hurts me to drive by plowed fields. Down the road, people will probably have to get a permit to plow.”

— “Its that way now, you can’t get a permit to plow upland ground. Our local ASCS office person goes on vacation about the time of year people are plowing, disking and burning stubble. He says he doesn’t want to see any of that. Residue is so important! How can you manage residue with a match?” [discussion of merits of no-till, thatch, many in the room practicing this now Some residue washes off the field into ditches, but if you don’t have a till farmer above you, if it lays there, the soil microbes eat it. Not as wet for combining, or for grazing cattle in a wet fall as compared to conventional till neighbors too.]

— [My questions: How get this to work if the price of N goes too high to be affordable? Can we do this with legumes, with manure, etc,? Maybe with the added grazing. I’d also like to see that as part of a more diverse rotation. Need to have a cool season legume to rotate with the cool season wheat, to complement the warm season perennial grass. Could you use moveable strips? Use instead of terraces, and move them every 5 years or so.]

— [Jerry: think about harvest rotations, not just crop rotations, use it to manage the weeds that are coming into the system. Imagine part of your field in only grass, and other parts in the grass-wheat combination. Move the annual crop around on your perennial grassland. Get the rotation, without taking the perennial out. The disturbances can negate having the perennial in the first place. Don’t rotate the perennial, rotate the annual.]

— [could you use a perennial legume, e.g. in Pennsylvania they did a lot of work with corn no-till into crown vetch, suppress it with various herbicide mixes. Could that work with wheat instead of corn?]

— [Jerry: crown vetch comes on too early here, would smother everything else. Maybe bundle flower in the mix? John: but bundle flower gets taller than wheat, messes up the harvest. Me: what about trying a desmodium? Shade tolerant? Jerrry: but doesn’t fix much nitrogen, and most legumes overlap with the cool season cereal crop. The Australians only plant their cool season crop in the system every 3 years]

Any other ideas?

— [John Mai – one thing we haven’t tried yet, foliar feeding nitrogen, something called “Assure,” or “Sure Crop.” 100% absorbed through the leaves. Maybe try a couple of applications. They say the later you do it, increase the yield, only go on the wheat leaves.]

— [Lynn – I’d love to see my cousin come to this! What would it take to get someone like him to try it? I don’t know.]

— “It took me three years to try no-till, and the reason was K-state’s little rain machine. It had 4 trays of different soils. When he reached down and flipped that no-till over, and it was soaked through, and the plowed ground was dry as a bone. I made my decision right there, I said I’m done with the plow!” [Jerry: I’d like to introduce you to perennials!] [laughter].

— “I’ve seen plots in Argentina, plots with annuals and perennials, 50 and 100 year trials with cropping and grazing, they are doing there what we are talking about here. We need to think out of the box. We need to start doing it!”

— [Jerry: How can we get K-State to do more of this?] “I asked those guys 5 years ago about cover crops, and I went to the ag day in August, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. One of the agronomists there said to come over there by the football stadium. And they had all the cover crops there. And nobody knew about it. Somebody is really dropping the ball, because we need cover crops here, for what we grow here. What they grow in South America won’t work here. They have 100 different cover crops to pick from.”

Thanks for your comments!

— Well, at least we got somebody listening!

— “Farmers need to listen to what other farmers are saying.”

Summary of the Focus Group Feedback

We were a bit surprised that they didn’t suggest more NRCS involvement in promoting this system, especially given that it uses existing CRP ground, and might provide a solution for keeping highly erodible cropland in CRP once contracts expire. The farmers in attendance were concerned in general about farm programs expiring, and the precarious nature of the payments that may or may not be there next year for CRP.

The farmers had many suggestions for ways to use the system in the future and to improving it, ranging from trying different annual crops (barley, a legume) to incorporating hunting leases and rotational grazing into the system and the economic accounting. Other suggestions and details are found in the quotes and won’t be repeated here, but there seemed to be consensus on the idea of spending as little as possible on the input costs, and see how the system performs.

The farmers in attendance were evenly disgruntled with K-State’s lack of interest in this work as they were in their local and state NRCS office, so both agencies/institutions have their work cut out for them in terms of building bridges to this group of farmers that would like to see low-input sustainable AND no-till farming work.

Overall, the impression was positive on this novel cropping system, and it seemed like we might be seeing it in some fields in the Salina area in the future. Further refinement by the Land Institute and K-State would help, especially when it comes to outreach and field days. However, farmer innovation and persistance will be the key to getting it to work in this challenging low rainfall, wheat disease prone area of Kansas.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We are preparing three scientific manuscripts that we hope to have published in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, the results thus far will be presented to audiences at conferences and on farm tours.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Three areas need additional study: 1) effect of wheat cultivars on yield and profitability; 2) weed management; and 3) nitrogen management.

We determined that Pronghorn, a wheat cultivar developed for more stressful conditions, performed better than Jagger, the locally adapted and widely used cultivar. There may be cultivars that outperform Pronghorn, which is susceptible to diseases common to northern Kansas.

Even at low densities, cool-season grasses were highly competitive with wheat and significantly reduced grain yields. The presence of these grasses increased over time in the plots indicating that their presence would be a long-term problem. Selective, well-timed grazing regimes or herbicide applications could greatly improve the economic and yield performance of the PWI system.

The PWI system was highly dependent on high, well-timed inputs of nitrogen fertilizers. Our fertilizer rate trials indicated that yields could be further improved but that,in some years, the increased fertilizer costs outweighed the economic benefits of yield gains. Studies of nitrogen fertilizer rates, timing, and forms could indicate opportunities to improve economic and yield performance.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.