Corn field with farm in distance
SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM: The Sustainable Corn project assessed the environmental and social impacts of climate variability on corn-based cropping systems.

How to grow corn sustainably

Data from five-year, multi-university sustainable corn research project is available online.

Researchers who participated in the Sustainable Corn Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP), led by Iowa State University, are providing access to five years of data from the multi-university, corn-based cropping systems study online.

The research was funded from 2011-17 with a $20 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. The research included nine states, 11 institutions and a 140-member team, led by Lois Wright Morton, project director and ISU professor of sociology emeritus, and Lori Abendroth, project manager.

“The team focused on management practices that could build resiliency to weather variability while maintaining crop yields and reducing negative environmental impacts,” Abendroth says. “Our goal was to make the data available to other scientists in a collaborative effort to advance our understanding of the interactions between the crops we grow, local soils, changing climate and management decisions.”

Study of sustainable corn production
The team collected data from 2011 to 2015 on 30 Midwest field research sites. The data includes plot tools, maps, photographs and weather information. Practices evaluated are corn-soybean rotations, cereal rye cover crops within a corn-soybean rotation, extended and diverse crop rotations, water drainage management, canopy nitrogen sensing and tillage management.

Research areas include agronomy, soil science, greenhouse gas, water quality, drainage and entomology. Standardized protocols were developed, as well as standards regarding data structuring and consistency for end-users. A data dictionary describes measurements taken along with detailed field management data and notes to help users properly interpret the data. Data was collected at different frequencies ranging from yearly to sensor-based measurements collected in 15-minute intervals.

“Agricultural production systems are complex and the availability of high-quality data, collected throughout the season and across different landscapes, is key to managing risk and sustainably producing crops,” Abendroth says.

Data usable in several ways
The team posted the data to USDA National Ag Library Ag Data Commons, a long-term repository. Teams receiving USDA funding are required to make data publicly available once a project has ended. The Sustainable Corn CAP team encourages others to use the data to generate added value for research applications and educational purposes.

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY: The study focused on ways to equip farmers with practices that build resiliency against increased weather variability while maintaining yield and reducing negative environmental impacts.

“This real-world data can be used in classroom exercises to better understand the responses and relationships inherent in agriculture. In addition, it can be used to train students in data sciences including visualization, analysis and interpretation,” Abendroth says.

ISU co-authors included professors Michael Castellano, agronomy; Richard Cruse, agronomy; Aaron Gassmann, entomology; Matt Helmers, ag and biosystems engineering; Daren Mueller, plant pathology; Matt O'Neal, entomology; and John Sawyer, agronomy. Giorgi Chighladze, systems analyst in ag and biosystems engineering, and Daryl Herzmann, agronomy systems analyst, were also co-authors.

Source: Iowa State University



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