Keeping corn strong despite weather extremes

Corn fieldA recent major project hopes to help farmers handle the heat — and drought and other weather extremes — caused by climate change.

Called “Climate Change, Mitigation and Adaptation in Corn-Based Cropping Systems,” the five-year effort brought together 12 teams totaling more than 100 scientists from nine Corn Belt states, including a team from CFAES.

The goal: to make Midwest corn, a multi-billion dollar crop, resilient in the face of climate change.

35 regionwide field sites, 200 cooperating farmers

By using a regionwide network of 35 field sites, testing a range of management practices, and with the assistance of 200 cooperating farmers, the scientists gathered data on the carbon, water and nitrogen footprints of farmlands growing corn.

Based on the findings, a suite of recommended sustainable practices came about — practices that, among other things, keep carbon in the soil, reduce nitrogen losses, and hold up in droughts and flooding better, all while ensuring corn’s productivity. Extended crop rotations, cover crops and tillage management are some of the practices. Details have been shared with farmers, crop advisers and others.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded the project, which ended in February. Iowa State University sociology professor Lois Wright Morton directed the effort.

Who (and what) helped from CFAES

Richard Moore, professor emeritus with CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR), coordinated the Buckeye team, which included Rattan Lal, Warren Dick and Kristi Lekies, also all with SENR, and Mary Gardiner and Andrew Michel of the college’s Department of Entomology.

CFAES’s long-term no-till plots at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster also “played a critical role,” Moore said. The plots are the oldest continuously maintained no-till plots in the U.S.

‘Warming trend is clear’

Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest in modern history, according to scientists with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the third year in a row to set such a record.

“We don’t expect record years every year,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a press release, “but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

Learn more about the project here and about its 2016 national award from NIFA here.

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