Farmer-Designed Research on the Use of Legumes in Sustainable Dryland Cropping Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $91,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Federal Funds: $44,500.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
David Baltensperger
University of Nebraska

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: millet, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: competition
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter


    Use of Austrian winter peas to replace part of the fallow period in the Nebraska Panhandle appears to be of limited economic value unless inorganic nitrogen fertilization is not available (organic operations) or nitrogen becomes significantly higher priced. Wheat yields were reduced slightly following the Austrian winter peas as moisture appeared to be more limiting to the system than nitrogen and total costs were higher when the peas were included. This grant relied heavily on producer involvement as participants have moved on to look at other alternatives including spring planted peas and have helped form a new growers association.


    On-farm research, featuring active collaboration of farmers with researchers, is extraordinarily useful in exploring cropping system designs that are applicable in a broad production area. Farmer involvement in the research can also increase credibility of such research within the farming community.

    In the wheat-producing region of western Nebraska, the farmer cooperator's role in research is still very traditional. Farmers typically provide land, labor, machinery, and free access to plots when working with researchers. Involvement in the experimental design or any decision-making aspect of the research is minimal to non-existent.

    Research efforts in the North Central Great Plains continue to explore alternative, dryland cropping systems as a solution to problems associated with the traditional wheat-fallow rotation. This project is an opportunity for producers to be directly involved in such an effort, thereby ensuring that the research will be relevant to them and, by extension, to other farmers in the region.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1. Develop an innovative model of farmer collaborator participation in research by actively involving farmers in determining on-farm research objectives and experimental approach.

    We propose to develop a contrasting model of farmer involvement, applying the strategy of involving major stakeholders at the very beginning of the planning process and including them as key decision-makers throughout the process. The two primary target audiences are the research community and the farming community. We hope to present both groups with an innovative model for collaboration in research based on the most pressing production questions as determined by farmers, the ultimate users of all agronomic research.

    Objective 2. Assess the value of growing a legume green manure crop in the dryland wheat-millet-fallow rotation.

    The problem is widespread use of the wheat-fallow rotation in the North Central Great Plains, despite accompanying decreases in soil organic matter and nitrogen content and increases in wind erosion. Diversifying the rotation by growing a legume cover crop shows great promise in ameliorating the drawbacks of fallow. Of the four basic approaches to managing a legume cover crop (seed crop, forage, green manure, or mulch), maximum soil benefits to dryland systems are realized from incorporation of the legume as a green manure. This practice can increase organic matter, add organic nitrogen to the soil, provide a break in insect, weed, and pathogen cycles.

    Objective 3. Conduct enterprise budget analyses of the wheat-millet-fallow and wheat-millet legume cropping systems.

    In order for innovative production/management practices to be adopted, such practices must be economically viable for the producer. Likewise, a vital component of agronomic research is an accompanying economic analysis so that farmers can find out what recommended practices mean in terms of machinery, labor, fuel, and input costs. We will use partial budget techniques to compare the variable costs and returns for the cropping system with and without legumes.

    Objective 4. Demonstrate agronomic and economic findings to regional farmers, Extension researchers and educators, and other interested in sustainable cropping systems.

    In order to stimulate additional research, enhance credibility, and increase the likelihood of acceptance by farmers, findings from this study will be disseminated in variety of ways. Research-in-progress field days and meetings will involve presentations and demonstrations by farmer collaborators and researchers. Experimental areas will be posted to promote local visibility and visitations by interested parties. For local, regional, and national exposure, agronomic results and collaborative research experiences will be documented through publications and presented at various meetings and conferences.

    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.