From RAMP to ROSE, Penn State Field Crop Research Pioneers Sustainability
Posted: June 20, 2011
Bill Curran, Penn State Weed Scientist, explains some of the various weed managment strategies on trial in the Sustainable Dairy Systems Experiment - waiting for cover crops to mature to roll them down (left) rather than burning them down (right).
There are 3 Sustainable Agriculture Systems experiments nestled within the Agronomy Farm at Penn State’s sprawling Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research and Education Farm in Rock Springs, PA. With 2 of the experiments under certified organic production and the third, a unique interdisciplinary attempt at meeting all the feed and fuel requirements of a 60-cow dairy on-farm, the experiments are a testament to Penn State’s growing cadre of sustainability-focused researchers.
The oldest experiment, “RAMP”, looks at several dimensions of sustainability in 4 organic feed and forage production systems, including profitability, weed management, and environmental quality, explained Dr. Meagan Schipanski, project manager and post doc. Co-project director Dr. Mary Barbercheck, an entomologist, explained that despite eight years of careful monitoring and study, there has yet to have been a significant pest outbreak in any of the systems. Sara Eckert, soil scientist, noted that despite efforts to see if yields were nitrogen limited with Chilean nitrate amendments in sub-plots, they were unable to detect any differences in yield between plots that received the supplement and those that did not, indicating that yield was not nitrogen limited in the systems in this experiment. To try to tease out some of the differences is the systems that have built up over the years; Meagan noted that a soybean uniformity trial will be done this year across all 4 systems to see any effects of the different management legacies on one crop. To learn more about this experiment, be sure to attend their field day on June 30!
The Sustainable Dairy Systems Experiment aims to produce all the feed and fuel required for a 60-cow dairy, explained Dr. Glenna Malcolm, project manager and post doc. The project compares many standard practices with more sustainable alternatives such as broadcasting versus injecting manure and broadcasting versus banding herbicides. The project also includes comparisons between sustainable practices, for instance plots are split to include a comparison between hairy vetch and red clover cover crops. One of the most exciting aspects of the project is its tractor – a New Holland vegetable oil tractor, it runs on straight canola oil pressed from canola grown in the trial. Better still is that the meal left over after pressing the oil can be fed back to the cows. 13 Researchers and counting have teamed up to work on this project, bringing expertise from fields ranging from entomology to weed science, to economics and greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more about the dizzying array of findings from this multi-disciplinary team don’t miss their field day coming up on June 22!
ROSE is the new kid on the block. Just launched last year, this trial aims to examine and improve weed and insect management in no-till organic grain and silage production, explained project manager and post doc, Dr. Matt Ryan. Using cover crops grown to reproductive maturity to suppress weeds, and manipulating the planting date for cash crops, project researchers aim to find successful balance between cover crop maturity to suppress weeds, while planting at the right time to avoid key insect pests like black cutworm. Other weed management strategies researchers are examining in this experiment include false seedbedding, a method of expressive weed management, wherein the gap between wheat harvest and cover crop establishment is exploited to germinate and destroy weeds in the soil weed seed bank. For organic field crop grow growers considering no-till production, this trial promises to provide many practical management guidelines necessary for improved success with the system.