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Penn State’s 1st Annual Sustainable Cropping Systems Triad Symposium

Posted: April 11, 2011

An active sustainable agriculture research and extension community has been quietly growing in size at Penn State. This was evident on the afternoon of February 25th when faculty, cooperative extension, post-doctoral researchers, and graduate students came together to meet one other, share ideas, and discuss ways to foster collaboration between three groups working on sustainable cropping systems research and extension projects.
The Sustainable Dairy Cropping System Experiment, funded by Northeast SARE.

The Sustainable Dairy Cropping System Experiment, funded by Northeast SARE.

Post-doctoral researchers Matt Ryan, Glenna Malcolm, and Meagan Schipanski organized the 1st annual Sustainable Cropping Systems Triad Symposium.  They each help manage three large, interdisciplinary projects that have established and are testing innovative grain and forage-based cropping systems.  At the ½ day symposium, Matt, Glenna, and Meagan presented overviews of each project to the 40+ people in attendance.  Following that, 10 graduate students shared their exciting research plans and initial findings with the group.

The newest project, called Improving Weed and Insect Management in Organic Rotational No-Till, is funded by the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and began in 2010.  This project is working to develop reduced-tillage organic feed grain production systems that integrate pest and soil management practices to overcome constraints associated with high residue, reduced-tillage environments.  Graduate student research associated with this project will address the following:

  • Weed management in a reduced-tillage organic system, Clair Keene
  • Effects of organic farming systems on insect pest and predator diversity, Tom Huff

The Sustainable Cropping Systems project, initiated in 2009, is funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program (NE-SARE).  The cropping systems in the project are designed to minimize nutrient and soil loss, build soil organic matter and nutrient pools, and promote biological processes for nutrient acquisition; enhance biological diversity and ecological interactions; and be energetically efficient, productive, profitable, and sustainable.  A number of strategies are included in the systems, including comparisons of broadcast and injection manure management and standard and reduced herbicide weed management.  Graduate students are investigating a broad range of topics within this project, including:

  • Winter canola, Stephanie Bailey
  • Weed management, Elina Snyder
  • Greenhouse gas and energy analysis, Gustavo Camargo
  • Effects of cropping rotation on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Kristin Haider
  • Improving manure management, Emily Duncan
  • Slugs and bugs, Maggie Douglas
  • Soil nutrient distribution of shallow disc injected manure, Robert Meinen

Meagan is the post-doc for the Weed Management, Environmental Quality, and Profitability in Organic Feed and Forage Production Systems project, which is funded by the USDA Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program (RAMP). The RAMP project began in 2003 and initiated the transition of the first certified organic research land at the Penn State Agronomy Farm in Rock Springs. The goal of this integrated project is to create sustainable cropping systems to produce high value organic livestock feed and forages, with a focus on balancing weed suppression, beneficial arthropod conservation, environmental quality, and profitability. Graduate student research affiliated with this project includes:

  • Impacts of cover crop diversity on soil microbial communities and ecosystem functions, Denise Finney
  • Effects of organic farming systems on insect pest and predator diversity, Tom Huff

In the final part of the symposium, the group was split into two and for interactive discussions on ‘outreach activities and decision-support tools’ or ‘cross-project data collection.’  Dr. David Mortensen summed up the event very nicely. He said, “In the end, it's the people, their talents and their ideas that will move the cause of sustainability ahead. This the most energy I've seen around sustainable agriculture in my ten years at Penn State.”

Outreach, stakeholder engagement, and shared-learning are emphasized in each of these cropping systems projects. In addition to planned on-farm research and field days, fact sheets, and video footage on sustainable agriculture in practice, each project has an advisory board consisting of outstanding, early-adopter farmers who help guide the research.  In 2011, at Penn State’s Agronomy farm, the NE-SARE project will host a field day on June 22 and the RAMP project will host a field day on June 30.  Please put these dates on your calendars and watch for more information coming soon.

Presentations, posters, and handouts from the Triad Symposium can be viewed here.

By Glenna Malcolm and Denise Finney, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences

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