MSU Extension seeks soybean fields for tillage and soil health research in 2016

Researchers will partner with Michigan growers to conduct extensive soil health and crop monitoring aimed at identifying practices that can jumpstart soybeans.

Tillage systems are of interest to Michigan growers today as a tool for improving soybean establishment by managing crop residue, soil moisture and temperature prior to planting. Many producers adopted conservation tillage technologies over the last 30 years in an effort to lower their cost of production and simultaneously realize the potential benefits of enhanced soil health. However, research has indicated that no-till systems can, in some cases, compromise establishment and early growth of soybeans in cooler climates of the Upper Midwest, especially on poorly drained soils and where large amounts of corn residue are present at planting.

Technologies are available to orient and redistribute corn stover for improved soybean performance without tillage. Yet, many soybean producers are reacting to the variable performance of no-till by either building some form of tillage back into their production systems, or by removing crop residue for use as livestock bedding, forage and in some cases bioenergy feedstock. There is concern that increasing tillage intensity or crop residue removal in soybean production systems may compromise previous gains in soil health, particularly accumulation of soil organic carbon for improved soil aggregation, water holding capacity, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.

While research has demonstrated a positive relationship between soil organic carbon concentration, mineralization and crop yields, the effect of various organic matter inputs and tillage systems on soil organic carbon dynamics at the field scale is less clear. In several long-term agricultural experiments, soil organic carbon accumulation rates are paradoxically higher under relatively lower carbon inputs and more intensive tillage. Other studies confirm that enhancing carbon inputs and reducing soil disturbance have all had inconsistent effects on soil organic carbon. Currently, little field specific information is available to support producer decisions regarding which tillage/no-till technologies are best equipped to jumpstart their soybean crop while also enhancing soil health.

In 2016, Michigan State University Extension, with funding from the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee and Project GREEEN, will use an epidemiological approach, studying data patterns, causes and effects, to understand the interaction of tillage, soil properties, soybean establishment, yield and profitability on Michigan farms. Through the development of producer learning communities in northeast, central and southwest Michigan, we will identify a broad sample of low and high performing soybean fields for participatory soil health and crop monitoring, field history and cost of production data collection. These data will be analyzed using data-mining techniques for the development of tillage decision support tools for Michigan soybean producers.

A large sample of soybean fields (60-100 annually) is needed for this project. Participants will be asked to engage with a small local group of other growers and provide management data to researchers, but will not be required to change their practices or implement any new treatments. In return, participants will receive free comprehensive zone-scale soil health and crop performance data for two soybeans fields annually, information worth hundreds of dollars! The extent of data sharing among collaborating growers will be determined by participants. For more information on this project, or to sign up as a participant, contact me at 989-734-2168 or before soybean planting.


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