|By ANN ALLEN
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Dr. Shawn P. Conley, an assistant professor and soybean extension specialist at Purdue University, wants the names of 10 farmers interested in working with him on a grant to look at cropping systems and decisions in planting soybeans - and he needs them by Nov. 15.
Although he is looking for data pertaining to the Louis Dreyfus processing plant under construction near Claypool, the farmers do not have to live in the Koscius-ko County area.
“The recent national focus on biofuel production has led to a significant increase in the development of biofuel facilities in the Midwest,” Conley said, noting that three are currently under construction in Indiana. “Once these facilities become operational they will utilize 20 percent of all soybeans produced in Indiana.”
What concerns him most is the lack of data regarding the impact facilities of this size may have on the sustainability and stability of local and regional agricultural ecosystems.
“Our objective is to provide a detailed analysis and characterization of system biodiversity, sustainability and health as growers migrate from long-standing corn/soybean rotation to a continuous soybean production system near biodiesel facilities,” he explained. “The world’s largest biodiesel facility (Louis Dreyfus) will be our model system.”
Recognizing the breadth of knowledge currently existing regarding monocultural field crop production systems, he describes his Monitoring Systems Quality project as novel in that it examines factors beyond yield.
“We know there are yield costs associated with continuous soybeans,” he said. “These may be partially or wholly offset by a grower’s proximity to a biodiesel plant that might offer significant incentives for continuous production.”
These could include a price and storage premium coupled with reduced transportation costs, he explained.
“Our holistic approach combines the disciplines of agronomy, agricultural economics, weed science, entomology, soil ecology and plant pathology to examine our hypothesis that there are additional long-term ecological drawbacks to abandoning crop rotation.”
Conley’s proposed work, the first to take a critical look at the effect of continuous commodity production in a Midwest cropping system while considering the new demands imposed by the biofuel industry, will examine soybean production at a variety of ecological levels - micro-organism, plant, field and landscape scales.
Farmers willing to work with him will need to become involved in some scouting, soil testing and nematode testing - and it won’t be a one-time effort. Conley’s plans call for a four-year study in large-acreage replicated commercial soybean fields.
“We will evaluate the fields on the three management scenarios,” he said. These include:
•Continuous soybean with intensive management (pesticide treatments as needed)
•Continuous soybean with low management (a single herbicide application)
•A corn-soybean rotation farmed with best management practices
Conley said that in each production system, the team would quantify and characterize the diversity of pest and beneficial insect specials, weed species, microbial communities and nematode and fungal pathogens.
His plan also calls for the development of a cost benefit analysis obtained by conducting a detailed economic analysis documenting all input costs, outputs and premiums.
Research results will be published in peer reviewed journals and distributed to grower clientele through Purdue Extension publications, a web-based biodiesel management module, an annual “Soy Biodiesel” field day program and through traditional county based Extension meetings targeted at clientele falling within the footprint of each biodiesel facility.
Farmers wishing to assist Conley may contact him at 765-494-0895 or con firstname.lastname@example.org
Another contact person is Kelley Easterday, Purdue Extension Educa-tion-Agriculture, Warsaw, 574-372-2340, email@example.com
This Indiana farm news was published in the Nov. 8, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.