Corn Project Findings

Corn plants at tasseling_webResearchers with the Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project (commonly known as the Sustainable Corn Project) have documented 130 findings, some of which will be explored during a Feb. 11 webinar, open to the public through Iowa State University

The five-year USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture research project is nearing completion, led by Lois Wright Morton, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University. In 2011, Morton convened 140 researchers from 10 land-grant universities in the Corn Belt and USDA Agricultural Research Service, to begin a study of farmers’ perceptions and farm management practices.

The practices had the potential to provide resilience in times of drought, reduce soil and nutrient losses under saturated soil conditions, decrease field nitrogen losses, retain carbon in the soil and ensure crop and soil productivity. The researchers collected measurements at 35 field sites with diverse landscapes and soils, and from surveys of thousands of Midwestern farmers, entering all the data into one database for the team’s use. Continue reading

Cover Crops and Climate Change: The Value of Modeling

I am using a modeling approach to answer questions about the ability of cover crops to mitigate climate risks, as described in a recent video produced in collaboration with the Sustainable Corn Project communication team.

The conservation community of researchers, farmers and practitioners champion the use of cover crops in the Midwest for numerous environmental benefits: reducing water pollution, nutrient recycling, weed suppression, erosion prevention, providing livestock feed, you name it. We also hear anecdotes about cover crops protecting the soil in periods of heavy rain, but what about cover crops in the context of climate change? Cover Crop Soil SamplingThis question is a priority for researchers on the Sustainable Corn project. Climate scientists have documented increases in precipitation intensity over the last several decades in the Midwest, and they anticipate even more in the future. So, can cover crops help mitigate those climate risks?  Continue reading

Extending the Rotation Beyond Corn and Beans


Dick Sloan is a member of the Sustainable Corn Project advisory board, chairman of the Lime Creek Watershed Council and a Practical Farmers of Iowa Outreach Leader.

Dick Sloan is a member of the Sustainable Corn Project advisory board, chairman of the Lime Creek Watershed Council and a Practical Farmers of Iowa Outreach Leader.

Sustainable Corn Project advisory board member, Dick Sloan, and Iowa State University Agronomy professor, Matt Liebman, will present Extending the Rotation Beyond Corn and Beans as part of the Practical Farmers of Iowa Fall Farminar Series Tuesday, November 25, starting at 7 p.m. CST. Click HERE for direct access to the archived Farminar program.


Dick started planting a rye cover crop in 2011 to improve his Soil Conditioning Index following soybeans and in two years made a commitment to planting multi-species nitrogen scavenging cover crops on all of his 720 rotated crop acres.  To diversify his cropping system and ensure availability of winter small grains, Dick planted 13 acres of rye for harvest in 2013 and expanded to 20 acres in 2014.  This Fall he planted 10 acres of winter wheat in addition to the 20 acres of rye for harvest in 2015.  This will provide Dick with the majority of his cover crop seed, provide an alternative to his corn/corn/soybean rotation, reduce costs by growing legumes after small grain harvest, increasing sustainability and resilience.

Field reviewMatt Liebman, and his research group at Iowa State University, has been conducting long-term research comparing two-, three- and four-year crop rotations. His recent work shows that extended crop rotations can lead to a reduced reliance on herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizer, and less use of fossil fuels. A Leopold Center On the Ground Video by Matt provides some insight into the topic he will be discussing on Tuesday evening.

This Farminar will be a great opportunity to gain some insight from a farmer and researcher about the opportunities and obstacles to adding a third crop to the typical corn and soybean rotation. Dick and Matt are both enthusiastic about extending and improving cropping systems to improve economic and environmental performance.

State Nutrient Reduction Strategy: Information Midwestern Farmers Can Use

Dick Sloan, an Iowa farmer in Buchanan County, recently wrote to his local newspaper to bring attention to the portion of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy that provides tables that assist farmers in making nutrient management decisions. Table 2, for example, on page 6 of the strategy shows the potential impact of certain practices, like cover crops, on reducing nitrate loss and on corn yield based on literature review.  Farmers can see which practices have been shown to be most effective. His article can be found at  The document to which he refers – Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy – can be found online at

Scientists Team Up to Keep Nitrates on Fields

Matthew Helmers is an associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University and a Principal Investigator with the Sustainable Corn project. He is working with teams of scientists who are field testing promising strategies to keep nitrogen fertilizer on farm fields, using a systems approach. The following is a news release about some of his findings…

AMES, Iowa – Keeping nitrogen fertilizer on farm fields, to support optimum crop growth, and out of streams and rivers is no simple formula. It’s complex.

“Think ‘writing a novel’ versus ‘writing a recipe,’” said Matthew Helmers, an associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, where he is working with teams of scientists who are field testing promising strategies, using a systems approach. Continue reading

Cover Crop Observations – Wisconsin

The use of cover crops has received increasing interest among Wisconsin growers for a variety of reasons.  Suggested benefits of cover crops include improved soil quality, reduced soil erosion, nutrient sequestration, pest and weed management, and restoration/maintenance of soil biota on “prevented planting” acres.  Thousands of acres in the state were not planted in 2013 because of wet soil conditions, especially in the North Central portion of the state.  Concerns associated with cover crop use in the state include the ability to establish the crop because of cold weather (measurable snow was recorded in the state on 20 October) and the ability to terminate the stand the following spring. Continue reading

Cover crop seeding into standing crops or after harvest?

Cover crops have gained in popularity in the Corn Belt over the last few years, and now is the time of year they are being seeded.  Some producers have already flown on cover crop seed into their standing corn or soybean crops, while others are waiting to drill or seed the cover crops after harvest.  With the delayed crop maturity and later harvest in some areas of the Corn Belt this year, it could be a good year to try seeding by air or with ground-based high clearance equipment, especially if seed is already purchased for species needing several months of moderate temperatures to grow.  Brassicas, legumes, and oats, for example, should be seeded no later than the third week in September for much of the Corn Belt, and flying them on now could still give some benefit to the soil.  Cereal rye is the most hardy of the cover crops grown in the region and can be successfully seeded after harvest throughout the region, and would be a good choice after corn harvest this year, particularly if next year’s crop will be soybeans.  Producers should consult the Cover Crop Selector Tool from the Midwest Cover Crops Council ( for recommended seeding dates for their state and county, as well as seeding rates, depths, and other tips.  It is important for producers to do their homework on fitting cover crops into their overall systems, however, including choice of cover crop based on next year’s cash crop and the method and timing of termination in the spring.

Video: Cover Crops – Fall Seeding … This short video features an aerial seeding
demonstration at a field day in Iowa on September 11, 2013.  Aerial
seeding of cover crops has been in full swing for the past two weeks in Iowa
and will continue as crops mature across the state.

Farmers Ecouraged to Contact Insurance Provider about Haying or Grazing a Cover Crop this Spring


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

News Release from the USDA Risk Management Agency, Contact: Dustin Vande Hoef, 515-281-3375.

DES MOINES –Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today encouraged farmers with cover crops to contact their insurance provider if they are interested in haying or grazing after May 10, 2013.  The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) has provided new guidance that insurance providers may allow farmers to continue to hay or gaze the cover crop until May 22, 2013. Continue reading

Speed Science

Want to learn a lot about crops, climate, culture, and change, all in a short period of time?  Check out the Speed Science Resources available on our website.  They include both factsheets and short videos and are approved for use in educational, research, and extension settings.  Factsheet topics vary from the nitrogen cycle, to cover crops, to drainage water management.  The videos cover climate change, soil core sampling, modeling and analysis of soil, and many other topics.  Here’s an example of a video.  Check it out and tell us what you think!