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U of M project will help corn and soybean farmers prepare for climate change

July 6, 2011

New research led by the University of Minnesota will help corn and soybean farmers across the country modify farming techniques to deal with climate change.

The project is funded by a five-year, $4.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The aim is to take farmers’ already successful practices and find ways to refine them in anticipation of climatic changes such as stronger storms and longer droughts, said Nick Jordan, the U of M agronomy professor who is the project’s principal investigator.

“The idea is to look at what corn and soybean farmers are already doing successfully and find ways to ensure some resiliency against the variable climates of the future,” he said. Scientists hope to find a way to create conditions that enable rapid crop growth while also enhancing soil characteristics that enable soils to handle spikes in rainfall and temperature that may become common if the Midwest climate changes.

That solution likely will include a technique known as “precision zonal management,” in which farmers create a ridge of soil along rows of corn or beans. The ridges create zones where crops get the nutrients and other conditions needed for good yields, while the areas between ridges enable soil-building processes to occur without interfering with crop growth. Cover crops are valuable for soil building, but can reduce crop yield. Zonal management might help Midwest farmers use cover crops for soil building with less cost and risk, Jordan said.

In-field research is underway at the Rosemount Research and Outreach Center and at sites in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Hampshire. “We want to find out how soil properties change under zonal management, and take a close look at the plant and soil processes needed to make the system work,” Jordan said. “This could be extremely useful information for the entire Corn Belt.”

The project is part of a larger effort by NIFA to find ways for agriculture and forestry producers to adapt to climate change and to best take advantage of variable climate patterns. In addition to the Minnesota grant, a dozen more projects totaling about $53 million have received funding.

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New research led by the University of Minnesota will help corn and soybean farmers across the country modify farming techniques to deal with climate change.

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