Office of Research

$20 million USDA grant to study climate on corn-based cropping systems

Published February 18, 2011

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 University of Illinois is one of the universities participating in this project. U of I Department of Crop Science faculty members Emerson Nafziger and Maria Villamil will lead the U of I's research efforts to collect and analyze data over the next five years. This region produces 8 billion bushels of corn, which is 64 percent of the annual harvest in the United States.

"The grant takes a synergistic approach to understanding the effects of climate variability and impacts on the sustainability of corn-based cropping systems throughout the Midwest," said Lois Wright Morton, Iowa State professor of sociology, interim director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and project director.

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," Morton said. "Farmers in the region will have opportunities to participate in on-farm research and evaluate research models. The project will also offer training for teachers and the next generation of scientists to better understand the relationships among climate shifts and agriculture."

Nafziger said this research builds on work that he and others have had under way for several years, looking at the effects of crop rotation, tillage and other factors on yields.

"With this funding, we will be able to measure some things that we couldn't measure before," Nafziger said. "Our hope is that sound management can be shown to benefit soils, corn yields and the environment."

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.

The grant is part of the USDA-NIFA Coordinated Agricultural Program. This project's researchers include agronomists, agricultural engineers, environmental scientists, hydrologists, soil scientists, sociologists, watershed engineers and natural resource scientists. It is one of three grants awarded nationally and was announced in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 18.

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.