April 14, 2024

Conservation Cropping: Principles of sustainably intensified agriculture

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Shalamar Armstrong, associate agronomy professor at Purdue University, approaches farming through the lens of sustainability.

Armstrong was a keynote speaker at the Conservation Cropping Seminar.

“The framework I use is sustainably intensified agriculture,” he explained. “I think we can be intensified and sustainable, regenerative and climate smart all at the same time.

“When we think about SIA, there are a couple things that this principle fosters.”

Sustainably intensified agriculture principles:

1. Maximize production and profit.

2. Maximize nutrient use efficiency.

3. Minimize environmental degradation.

Accomplishing these goals isn’t easy, Shalamar said.

“It takes a systems approach to get this done,” he said. “Right now, the fastest way we can get to this system is through cover crops. The workhorse cover crop of the Midwest is cereal rye. It helps with nitrogen loss reduction, carbon capture and erosion control.”

Research continually shows that cover crops are tied to nitrogen loss reduction.

“The nutrient loss reduction strategy comes to about 30% reduction in nitrate loss in a tile drained landscape,” Shalamar said.

“But I have experienced over and over, whether you have fall- or spring-applied nitrogen, when you add cover crops to that system — you get a 46% to 49% reduction in nitrate loss via tile drainage.

“That’s a bit higher than what we predicted in the nutrient loss reduction strategy as the science assessment team.”

Balansa clover is an alternative to planting cereal rye ahead of corn.

Shalamar shared a summary of research results pertaining to cover crops, including Balansa clover.


• The inclusion of Balansa clover generated 137 pounds per acre of nitrogen within the biomass, which could function as a nitrogen credit, depending on your residue management.

• The inclusion of Balansa clover could be vital in the production of low carbon intensity corn due to its ability to generate a nitrogen credit and capture carbon within a no-till residue management system.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor