The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture 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.
Michigan State University is one of the universities participating in the research. A team of 42 scientists from nine universities and two USDA Agricultural Research Service institutions in eight states in the north central region will 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," says 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 says. "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."
Sasha Kravchenko, associate professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and MSU co-principal investigator, says the project's multi-scale data collection approach will provide researchers, producers and industry with unique capabilities to enhance productivity and resilience of corn-based cropping systems.
"We are very excited about this project," Kravchenko says. "It will provide a unique opportunity to have consistent information on changes in soil carbon and greenhouse gas emissions across the entire Midwest, something that is desperately needed for researchers to be able to up-scale the results from small-sized experiments to the whole region."
Kravchenko, whose work is supported by MSU AgBioResearch, will lead the experimental work on greenhouse gas emission and carbon sequestration at two sites in Michigan and will contribute to the task of developing up-scaling tools for generating state and regional scale predictions and recommendations based on the project's findings.
Bruno Basso, adjunct associate professor at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, will lead crop modeling efforts exploring performance of corn-based systems under future weather scenarios.
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.
The "Impacts of Climate on Corn-based Cropping Systems" grant is one of three grants to be awarded nationally. The grant awards were announced in Washington, D.C. last month.