The North Sterling site, located outside of Sterling in Northeastern Colorado, is characterized by flat terrain and represents an agronomic site within urban and formerly urban areas.
Site history & management
The site is at the edge of a non-tilled experimental field that is used for the long-term sustainable Dryland Agroecosystems Project (DAP), which was initiated in 1985 at three sites in eastern Colorado (Sterling, Stratton, and Walsh) to evaluate the effects of cropping intensity on production, water use efficiency and selected soil chemical and physical properties. The DAP site was established in 1985 and was chosen because of representative soils present in the catena.
Before establishment of the no-till cropping systems, the site was under conventional tillage since it was taken from native sod in about 1910. Conventional tillage from 1910 to 1985 ranged from moldboard plowing in the early years to sweep tillage in the later years. The primary crop was winter wheat grown in a wheat-fallow rotation. Proso millet also had been grown occasionally during a few years before 1985. Cropping systems under no-till management were initiated in 1985. These systems included:
- Winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-fallow
- Winter wheat-maize (Zea mays L.)-fallow
- Winter wheat-maize-proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.)-fallow
- Continuous cropping (crops grown over the years included maize, sorghum, winter wheat, forage millet, and sunflower)
- Perennial grass
Grass stands were established in the spring of 1986 and contain a mixture of perennial species including warm and cool season grasses.
Summers in Sterling are hot with low humidity and winters are typically around freezing point but can drop to lower temperatures. Occasional hailstorms and thunderstorms are expected during the growing seasons. North Sterling also experiences seasonal high winds and tornados. NEON’s North Sterling site is owned privately and managed by a local farmer; it is subject to the shifting agronomic and economic needs of the area.
This site provides a baseline understanding of the regional effects of climate change and chemical climate, including dust and Front Range pollution, to understand and contrast ecological process with other within- and cross-domain analyses. NEON collects a standard suite of data at North Sterling; however, data from this particular location provides a baseline for evaluating changes due to invasive species and infectious disease along a rural wildland, suburban fringe, urban gradient in time or space. Overall, the Front Range of Colorado is growing at 3 times the national average with the population expected to surpass 5.7 million by 2030. Conversion of native vegetation to urban and suburban landscapes drastically alters biological diversity, reduces soil organic matter and alters the temporal and spatial distribution of plant biomass. This relocatable site is designed to represent economic and agronomic decisions typically found in farming practices in eastern Colorado, which is a shifting agricultural site in Domain 10.