Due to efforts led by Harvest Hub partner Dr. Varaprasad Bandaru along with his colleague Dr. Cesar Izaurralde, the University of Maryland is now part of a multi-institutional consortium focused on improving water and nitrogen use efficiencies and boosting soil health in the semi-arid southern Great Plains.
Supported by the USDA, another of Harvest's partner organizations, the USDA Scientific Research Program promotes increasing sustainable agricultural practices by investing in research focused on making resources in the South Plains farms go further. The nearly $10 million five-year project led by Kansas State University and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) aims to sustainably increase the productivity of rainfed farms in the region.
Dr. Izaurralde (Institutional PI) and Dr. Bandaru (Co-I) from the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences together with Dr. Robert G. Chambers (Co-I) from the UMD Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics will lead the modeling and productivity analyses of the project. Other institutions involved in the effort include the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Oklahoma State University.
Drs. Izaurralde and Bandaru will use an integrated modeling approach to understand farm and regional scale performance of various agricultural systems designed to improve water use, nitrogen efficiency and soil health under various conditions.
“We expect to discover promising rainfed cropping systems that can increase soil organic matter thus benefiting soil quality and health,” Izaurralde said.
The modeling team will also develop a dynamic decision support system to provide real-time information to farmers for making strategic decisions about things like which crops to grow and when to plant them, the optimal nitrogen level of mid-season fertilization, and whether to apply pest and disease control measures. Dr. Chambers will evaluate the performance of current and novel rainfed agricultural systems, outlining those that can lead to long-term economic, social and environmental viability.
“The project is expected to result in fundamental knowledge of beneficial crop rotations and crop management technologies with the goal of developing resilient agricultural systems to improve food production in the U.S. and around the world,” Bandaru said.