Penn State Triad Projects Hold Symposium, Field Day
Posted: August 28, 2012
Brian Caldwell of Cornell University presents research from Cornell's Organic Cropping System Trial at the 2nd annual Triad Symposium. Photo by Matt Ryan.
The ‘Triad’ group was formed in 2011 and named for three sustainable cropping systems projects underway at Penn State at the time. At the 2nd Annual Triad Symposium, held on February 25th, 2012 on the Penn State campus, a fourth cropping systems project was introduced: “Finding the Right Mix: Multifunctional Cover Crop Cocktails for Organic Systems” This systems experiment seeks to identify benefits and costs of using different cover crop mixtures in Organic crop production. The project is funded by USDA’s Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI) through 2015, and is collaboration between personnel from Penn State’s Departments of Ecosystem Science and Management, Plant Science, Entomology and Agricultural Economics, three Pennsylvania farmers, and Penn State Cooperative Extension.
The name ‘Triad’ remained into 2012, although four Penn State projects participated in the symposium, because the “Weed Management, Environmental Quality, and Profitability in Organic Feed and Forage Production Systems” (funded by USDA Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program, or RAMP) project entered its final field season in 2012. This experiment is based at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center on a site that had previously housed a project investigating management in transitioning to Organic production from 2003-2007. The current ”RAMP” study is investigating if alternating tillage with soil building practices can produce Organic feed and forage in a system that performs to meet adequate biological, environmental, and economic performance indicators.
The third Organic project is the Reduced-Tillage Organic Systems Experiment (ROSE), also funded by USDA-OREI, which completed its first full field season in 2011. The ROSE project is investigating pest and soil management challenges associated with reduced-tillage Organic feed grain production systems, and aims to disseminate findings to producers, both Organic and non-Organic, and to researchers. The project is replicated at the Agronomy Farm at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Experiment Center, in Georgetown, DE at the University of Delaware’s Carvel Research and Education Center, and in Beltsville, MD at the USDA-ARS Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC). Post-doctoral researcher Matt Ryan gave a presentation on the ROSE project at the Triad Symposium, and graduate students Clair Keene and Ariel Rivers presented posters of some of the experiment’s first year findings.
The fourth cropping systems project underway at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Experiment Center is the Sustainable Dairy Cropping Systems Project, funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program of the USDA. Researchers involved in this cropping systems experiment are investigating sustainable management practices of the forage, feed, and fuel crops needed to sustain a 65-cow dairy herd, while minimizing off-farm inputs. The project completed its second full field season in 2011, and was featured in 5 graduate student posters at the Symposium. Post-doctoral researcher Glenna Malcolm presented on the energy and fossil fuel use of the experimental cropping systems, as generated using the FEAT (Farm Energy Analysis Tool) developed by Agricultural and Biological Engineering Ph.D. candidate Gustavo Camargo.
In addition, this year Penn State researchers heard from and shared results with cropping systems researchers from Cornell University. Organic farmer and researcher Brian Caldwell presented details from the Cornell Organic Cropping Systems Project. Like the Penn State experiments, the Cornell project involves collaborators from different departments researching various aspects of the cropping system. Information on cropping systems research at Cornell can be found at.
Participants in the Soil Health and Nutrient Conservation Research Tour learn how to monitor nitrogen supply to a corn crop following different cover crops.
One of the topics discussed at the 2011 symposium was developing collaborative outreach activities around the Triad projects. That discussion came to fruition on June 27, 2012 as the projects worked together to host the Strategies for Soil Health and Nutrient Conservation Research Tour at the Agronomy Research Farm at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center. Nearly one hundred participants broke into small groups and circulated through five hands-on learning stations embedded within the research fields.
The ‘Winning Over Weeds with Cover Crops’ station focused on how to use high-residue cover crops to control weeds without herbicides. Participants learned how much cover crop residue was needed to effectively control weeds as well as how the cover crop C:N ratio affects nitrogen supply and residue persistence. At the ‘Cover Crop Mixture for Corn Success’ station participants used a chlorophyll meter and a soil nitrate quick-test to collect data on how last winter’s cover crop mixtures were performing at supplying nitrogen to this year’s corn crop. A no-till manure injector was on display at the ‘Minding Manure to Conserve Nutrients’ station and a rainfall simulator demonstrated how manure injection technology can reduce nutrient runoff. At the ‘Creative Cover Cropping’ station Penn State’s newly developed cover crop interseeder was used to demonstrate how cover crops could be seeded into a standing corn crop. Other opportunities to integrate cover crops into a crop rotation, such as frost-seeding into small grains and using alternative crop rotations were also discussed. Finally, at the ‘Power of Predators’ site participants learned how to conserve and promote the beneficial insects that naturally contribute to the control of crop pests. The learning stations were led by dozens of project team members including faculty, staff and students from Penn State, researchers from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and commercial farmers from the projects’ advisory boards, and were made successful by the engaging and insightful participation of the tour attendees.
As the ‘Triad’ collaboration matures and strengthens, stay on the lookout for more opportunities to learn about and participate in Penn State’s sustainable agriculture cropping systems research. For more information about recent activities and findings, visit the project websites or view the gallery of research posters from this year’s symposium at the links below.
By Elina Snyder, Plant Sciences Department and Charlie White, Penn State Extension