- Crop Production: nutrient cycling
- Education and Training: focus group, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, whole farm planning
- Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
- Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, social capital
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) takes vulnerable land out of agricultural production to protect and improve soil health. However, the recent addition of a mid-contract management (MCM) requirement to CRP contracts expanded the CRP’s focus towards bird habitat provisioning. How MCM strategies of disk plowing, burning, selective planting and herbicidal application differently impact soil health, however, remains largely unknown. By working with private landowners (including ranchers and farmers) and managers in the Niobrara Valley, we aim to indentify and quantify physical, chemical and biological properties of soil health and their response to different MCM strategies on CRP land. This work dovetails with bird, plant and insect research underway, enabling us to elucidate a more holistic consideration of the impacts of different MCM strategies. This new and expanded understanding will 1. support private landowners as they work to meet both contractual and their own post-CRP management goals, and 2. establish relevant, quantifiable methods to track soil health on CRP land once our own investigation ends.
Project objectives from proposal:
Our primary outcome objective is to provide Conservation Reserve Program-enrolled landowners in the Niobrara Valley with a better understanding of how four major mid-contract management activities impact landowner-identified attributes of soil health.
As landowners and managers are faced with the arduous task of weighing the various economic and ecological tradeoffs of different MCM strategies, the inclusion of soil health is often overlooked, with potentially detrimental consequences for the long-term value and resilience of their land. This is especially important as landowners are faced with the option to re-enroll in CRP, with uncertain climatic and economic futures looming on the horizon. We believe that our work will render CRP lands more valuable and resilient over the long-term for private landowners by incorporating soil ecological knowledge into more recent management objectives that often focus exclusively on promoting short-term upland bird habitat.
More specifically, our research objectives include:
- Tracking and establishing a set of measurable soil health attributes as identified by private landowners, and how they are differentially impacted by the four major MCM strategies; and
- Providing applicable, relevant information to private landowners, land managers and USDA-NRCS personnel in an effort to promote smarter, adaptive management decisions that balance short- and long-term objectives to meet CRP contract requirements and landowner-desired outcomes alike.