USDA Project to Study How Midwest Ag Can be More Diverse Beyond Corn, Soybean Rotations

Two Iowa State University researchers will join a five-year $10 million project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture that seeks to make Midwestern agriculture more resilient by moving away from the dominant corn-soybean rotation.

“Growing only a rotation of corn and soybeans is not necessarily sustainable economically, environmentally or socially. We will be working with farmers in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa to evaluate alternative cropping systems that can be used in the Midwest-we will be evaluating small grains and/or forage crops in rotations, perennial forage or bioenergy crops, agroforestry, horticultural food crops and grazed livestock,” Linda Prokopy said in a Purdue University press release.

Prokopy is department head and professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Purdue University and is leading the project, titled “#DiverseCornBelt: Resilient Intensification through Diversity in Midwestern Agriculture.”

Iowa State’s component of the team will include J. Arbuckle, professor and Extension sociologist, and Phil Gassman, research scientist at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. Arbuckle will help lead the social science research component of the project, including stakeholder listening sessions, surveys and interviews, which will ensure that farmer and stakeholder needs and ideas will guide the diversification efforts. Gassman will play a key role in modeling the potential hydrological and environmental impacts of agricultural diversification.

“This is an exciting effort that will engage farmers and stakeholders across the supply chain to help bring more options to farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest,” Arbuckle said. “The project will focus on facilitating diversification that leads to greater economic stability for farmers and agroecological system resilience.”

Gassman said that research shows that different kinds of cropping systems can have major impacts on water quality and quantity. “Our modeling will simulate potential land use change to help guide transitions toward systems that use water more efficiently and that cause less pollution,” he said.

The research proposal received letters of support from farmers, industry, academic institutions and environmental organizations, including General Mills, Smithfield, Kellogg’s, Red Gold, the Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, National Association of Conservation Districts, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, the Iowa Soybean Association and the National Wildlife Federation.

Partner institutions on the project include the American Society of Agronomy, Conservation Technology Information Center, USDA Economic Research Service, USDA Forest Service, Illinois State University, Iowa State University, Montana State University, The Nature Conservancy, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Sustainable Food Lab, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin Madison and Platteville.

For over 60 years, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University has conducted innovative public policy and economic research on local, regional and global agricultural issues, combining academic excellence with engagement and anticipatory thinking to inform and benefit society.

Source: Iowa State University news release