- Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animal Production: feed/forage, rangeland/pasture management
- Crop Production: fertilizers, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
- Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
Problem: High-elevation hay meadows are a critical but under-performing component of livestock operations in the Mountain West. Flood irrigation, high elevation, and cool temperatures result in concentration of organic materials near the soil surface, constraining N cycling and forage productivity. Limited forage productivity in meadows is surprising considering meadow soils contain as much as 2400 kg N/ha in the top 10 cm, reflecting a disconnect in the microbial community's ability to mineralize N for plant growth.
Question: How can the resource of stored N in meadow soils be utilized to reduce dependence on N-fertilizer and improve economic and environmental sustainability of western ranches?
Solution: Understanding N mineralization in meadow soils will give ranchers tools to better manage natural N-release and reduce N-fertilizer rates.
Method: We propose an on-farm research trial where soil cores are incubated in-situ and routinely sampled for mineralized N content in order to determine the temporal patterns and magnitude of N release in meadows.
Outreach: Results will be disseminated to stakeholders through producer meetings and publications in extension and peer reviewed articles. We will also focus on training a core group of ranchers to communicate findings within their communities and promote innovation.
Expected outcomes: We expect to find N mineralization in meadows occurs in discrete time periods between flooding events when soil conditions are ideal for N mineralization. This knowledge will give our rancher collaborators tools to innovate novel management strategies to optimize N mineralization and fertility management on their operations.
Project objectives from proposal:
Research objective 1: Determine the amount of N mineralized in high-elevation hay meadows annually to better predict N availability and reduce dependence on N fertilizer.
Research objective 2: Determine the temporal patterns of N mineralization so meadow management tactics can target critical periods of N mineralization to optimize N cycling in the field.
Research objective 3: Determine relationships between N mineralization and soil health indicators to develop measures for evaluating meadow soils with healthy N cycling.
Education objective 1: Hold producer meetings at three critical stages of the project to relay research findings and updates to local ranchers and stakeholders.
Education objective 2: Develop a core group of 5-10 ranchers who receive regular communication about our research to foster outreach from within local ranching communities.
Education objective 3: Disseminate research findings to producers, industry stakeholders, and academia through written and oral media.
Education objective 4: Hold a producer round-table to develop practical management tactics that implement our research findings.