Increasing Crop Water Use Efficiency in Advanced No-Till Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $22,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $38,600.00
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Perry Miller
Montana State University

Annual Reports


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


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed rations
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, fallow, no-till, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization


    Winter pulse agronomy experiments focusing on no-till techniques were conducted at Amsterdam, MT, 2002 - 2005, leveraged with additional funding from the USDA Cool Season Food Legume Program and the Montana Fertilizer Tax Advisory. All field experimentation was conducted in the context of a persistent drought cycle where annual crop-year rainfall ranged from 1.9 to 2.9 inches less than the previous 30-yr average for this area. The first experiment examined optimal seeding rates for winter lentil and pea when sown mid-September in tall wheat stubble. The second experiment compared the response of winter lentil and pea to fall seeding dates and stubble height, using high yielding spring cultivars as the performance controls. The third experiment, begun in 2003, compares forage yield and quality from winter and spring pea treatments with barley. Timely rain was received in September of 2001, 2002 and 2004 to germinate winter pea and lentil treatments, but not in 2003. Consequently the 2004 winter pea and lentil trial failed to establish. Building partially from the small investment from WSARE in this winter legume research we were successful in obtaining a grant through the USDA-CSREES Integrated Organic Program to continue investigation of winter pea green manure specific to wheat-based organic cropping systems in Montana. In that study we will be examining the effect of termination strategies on soil N and water, as well as the influence on soil P dynamics, and the causal incidence of seedling disease and weeds in subsequent winter wheat crops. A highly novel aspect of this new research direction is exploration of non-tillage methods for green manure growth termination. Winter pulse agronomy experiments using no-till techniques were conducted at Amsterdam, MT, 2002 - 2003. In 2004 winter pulse planting failed completely due to abnormally dry fall soil conditions that prevented germination and trials were re-established in September 2004 for data collection in 2005. Seeding date and seeding rate were more critical factors than stubble height for winter pulse production. Winter pea and lentil yields were competitive with, but not superior to, standard spring types. However, winter types appear superior to spring types for pea forage production.

    This research has resulted in the following conclusions: 1) Seeding rates for white-flowered winter lentil or pea should be 50% greater than that for spring types until methods promoting winter survival equal to pigmented types are discovered; 2) Tall stubble (30-35 cm) can provide a yield advantage over short stubble (10 cm) but was not critical for winter survival in a southwestern Montana environment; 3) If seedbed moisture is adequate, winter pea and lentil seeding date should not be delayed past mid-September. Seeding date is a more critical decision than stubble height; 4) Grain yields of winter pea and lentil were lower or equal to spring controls due to slow seed development rates; 5) Forage yield potential and forage quality of winter pea was generally superior to spring pea, especially for the pigmented ‘Austrian’ type; 6) Austrian winter pea had seed yields similar to a pigmented spring type forage pea.

    Project objectives:

    1) Quantify effect of crop residue management on crop-available water, winter crop survival and stubble microclimate effects.

    2) Compare growth, productivity, and crop water-use-efficiency of spring vs. winter crop growth habits.

    3) Extend new knowledge about residue management and crop rotations to farmers, industry reps and research colleagues.

    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.