Researchers set their sights on maintaining sustainable corn systems

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) has awarded a $20 million grant to nine land-grant universities and two USDA Agricultural Research Service institutions. The research will focus on keeping Midwest corn-based cropping systems resilient in the face of future climate uncertainties.

The grant was announced Friday in Washington, D.C.

The comprehensive, five-year initiative brings together 42 scientists from nine land-grant universities and two USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) institutions in eight states in the country's north-central region, which produces 8 billion bushels of corn, or 64 percent of the annual harvest in the United States.

Iowa State University will be serving as the lead investigator. Collaborators include the University of Illinois, The Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, University of Missouri, Lincoln University of Missouri (1890 Institution), USDA/ARS in Coshocton, Ohio, USDA/ARS in Columbus, Ohio, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University.

Researchers will begin collecting data on carbon, nitrogen and water movement this spring from 21 research sites in eight states. Special equipment will be used to monitor greenhouse gas emissions at many of the sites. The team will integrate field and climate data to create models and evaluate crop management practices. The goal is to create a database of plot, field, farm and watershed data that can be combined with climate data to develop scenarios based on different practices.

Farmers in the region will also be involved in the project, having the opportunity to participate in on-farm research and evaluate research models. Additionally, training will be offered for teachers and the next generation of scientists, in order to better understand the relationships among climate shifts and agriculture.

"This is the first such effort to collect science-based data using identical methodologies from one end of the Corn Belt (Iowa) to the other (Ohio)," says Richard Moore, assistant director of SENR on OARDC's Wooster campus and one of the researchers on the grant. "Of particular note is the fact that OSU and the USDA-ARS center in Coshoston, Ohio (the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed, which is also involved in the project), have each maintained continuous no-till corn plots since 1962, making this long-term research possible."

The world's longest continuously maintained no-tillage experiment, OARDC's Triplett-Van Doren no-till plots in Wooster, Hoytville and South Charleston will play a key role in evaluating the impact of crop rotation (continuous corn and corn/soybean) and tillage on greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitric/nitrous oxide, says Robert Mullen, OARDC and OSU Extension soil fertility and nutrient management specialist.

"Additionally, we will be involved in evaluating the impact of cover crops in corn rotations on nitrogen fertilization requirements," Mullen adds. "We will be using sensor-based approaches (developed at the University of Missouri and Ohio State) to make nitrogen-rate decisions within that cropping system. We will also be heavily involved in the development of Extension materials delineating the findings of our research activity."

The USDA-NIFA program is focused on decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. The long-term national outcome is to reduce the use of energy, nitrogen and water by 10 percent and increase carbon sequestration by 15 percent through resilient agriculture and forest production systems.

Source: Ohio State University, University of Illinois



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