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

Effectively Engaging Producers in Conservation Conversations

WEBINAR: February 16, 1:00 p.m. CST; 2:00 EST

Participate to learn what social scientists are discovering about how farmers are thinking about conservation practices and practical strategies for engaging them.

Emphasis of this webinar will include findings on farmer uncertainty about conservation practices, using social norms to leverage practices that address off field/off farm nutrient losses, and how the language of conservation can influence social learning and behavior change.

The presenter is Lois Wright Morton, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University and the Director of the Sustainable Corn Project..The Adobe Connect webinar is hosted by USDA NRCS Science and Technology and will be available on their website at the following link:

Envisioning New Roles for land-grant university Extension: Lessons learned from climate change outreach in the Midwest

Authors: Linda Prokopy and Rebecca Power

We have been working together for over four years on a USDA-NIFA funded project called Useful to Usable (U2U) that is developing climate information for corn producers in the North Central Region ( As part of this project, we have conducted surveys with farmers, Extension personnel and agricultural advisors. We have broadly defined agricultural advisors for the purpose of this study and surveyed state agency staff (Departments of Agriculture, Departments of Environment), Federal agency staff (NRCS and FFA), county agency staff (Soil and Water Conservation Districts), agricultural bankers, Certified Crop Advisors, input dealers among others. Surveyed farmers managed over 80 acres of corn and grossed $100,000 in 2011; operators of small farms are not included in this analysis. Extension educators surveyed were in agriculture and natural resources program areas.

These surveys revealed several interesting findings that suggest new directions for Extension in our region.

  1. Land-grant university Extension educators do not believe in anthropogenic climate change at the same level as university scientists (Prokopy et al. 2015b; see Table 1). This reveals a troubling disconnect between climate science and Extension, which has a critical role in disseminating the best science to the public and effectively conveying the needs of the public to university researchers. Continue reading

Corn Belt farmers’ attitudes toward responses to increased weather variability

Climate changes and extreme rain and heat/drought events pose significant challenges to the corn and soybean economy in the Midwestern U.S. In the last decade, the intensity and frequency of droughts and floods in the region have increased, with a record loss of 4 billion bushels recorded in 2012. Farm-level adaptation to climate change is a suitable process of adjustments to potential current and future weather variability. Understanding farmers’ attitudes toward their individual and collective efforts to protect land from increased weather variability can provide valuable lessons for agriculture and climate policy makers and agricultural advisors.

In 2012, a farmer survey carried out by the Sustainable Corn Project (USDA-funded project) in partnership with the Useful to Useable (U2U) project asked 4778 corn farmers from 11 Midwestern states about adaptive responses to increased weather variability. In general, most respondents believed that farmers should take steps to make their operations more resilient (click here to see the fact sheet). One thought-provoking result shows that two-thirds of respondents across all states agreed that farmers should take additional steps to prepare for increased weather variability. According to the survey, a majority of farmers are viewing farm-level adaptation as a necessary step for future sustainability of their farms.

Farmers’ attitudes toward responses to increased weather variability varies across a diverse social and biophysical landscape. For improved understanding of this multiplicity, the farmer survey was stratified by watershed, with random samples of farmers drawn in each of 22 HUC6 watersheds. Watershed-level data can help to inform localized outreach programming. The survey data shows that while 58% farmers agreed that they as individuals should take additional steps to protect land against risks posed by increased weather variability. The level of agreement varied across watersheds, from a low of 47% in Loup watershed (Nebraksa) to a high of 70% in Kaskaskia watershed (Illinois). Higher levels of agreement toward responses to increased weather variability could suggest that more farmers are willing to support adaptive actions.

Suggestions for Young Farmers?

This spring I had the pleasure of interviewing a diverse group of established cash crop farmers for a Sustainable Corn Project video. These farmers strongly recommended purchasing crop insurance. Farmers run the risk of losing a large amount of money in just one or two growing seasons, but crop insurance will help cover this potential loss. These farmers also emphasized stewardship: taking good care of the soil for profitability, for sustainability, and for future generations who will farm that soil. Some of these farmers also suggested that young farmers consider farm management practices that build crop resiliency to minimize the potential impacts of extreme weather.

What advice would YOU give to young farmers? What would you tell a young person who wants to go into farming in the future? (Click on the “conversation bubble” above or leave a comment below to share a suggestion.)

Farmers weigh in on Nitrogen management in a changing climate

Climate and weather greatly impact a farmer’s day-to-day operations as well as their livelihood.  To gain perspective on farmers’ production practices and how they are changing, Michigan State University Extension educators and specialist invited farmers from across Michigan to participate in one of three discussions on sustainable corn production held at locations in the north central, central and south central part of the state during mid-March.  Climate and nitrogen were two of the topics discussed.

Concerns over heavy spring rains prompts Michigan corn growers to split N-applications throughout growing season.

Concerns over heavy spring rains prompts Michigan corn growers to split N-applications throughout growing season.

We found that producers have already decreased the amount of nitrogen applied per bushel of yield.  Cost of nitrogen, concern of environmental impacts, improved technology and better information were all given as reasons for the change.   The source of nitrogen used is also changing.  Most producers indicated that they will or have already moved away from using anhydrous mostly due to availability. Continue reading

Water Chat

Water is an extremely valuable input in agriculture, whether delivered through rain, snow or irrigation. This fact was made very apparent during the kickoff presentation at the recent Iowa Water Conference.  In his presentation Water Issues in the Developing World, Dick Schultz (Iowa State University) detailed the different sources of water in our world.  While it seems that there is “water, water, everywhere”, only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, the balance resides in the oceans.

Of that fresh water, 69% is in glaciers, 30% is groundwater, 0.3% lakes, 0.06% soil moisture, 0.04% in the atmosphere, 0.06% in rivers and 0.003% in the biosphere.  He went on to point out that 50% of the fresh water is in 6 areas: Canada, Russia, Tibet, Columbia, Brazil and Indonesia. freshwatersources

Water has been a hot topic in the US news with stories of the California drought, an extremely snowy winter in the east and nutrient reduction strategies in the Midwest.  A quick look at the Drought Monitor shows that drought conditions extend from California to Illinois. Continue reading

Decision tools that are useful and usable

Farmers are data hungry. I know because I moonlight as one.  I get eight texts a day just to know what the grain markets are doing.  What is my cost per acre?  How fast did that group of pigs grow?  These are the types of questions I and other farmers are asking themselves all the time.  This fall I finally installed a GPS-enabled yield monitor in my combine.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Sure, much of what I was seeing I knew already. Some areas are good, some bad, and some are much better or worse than I ever expected.  That real-time data gave me something to think about and will lead to management changes in the future.

This want for data is why I’m excited about the decision tools that the Useful to Usable (U2U) project is developing and has made available at   Continue reading

Corn Belt Farmer Perspectives on Climate and Ag Summarized in New Report

New Report!

New Report!

A new report on farmer perspectives on climate and agriculture, gathered in a 2012 survey of nearly 5000 farmers from 11 Corn Belt states, presents survey results by watershed. The survey was conducted in partnership with the Useful to Usable (U2U) project (, another USDA-funded climate and agriculture project. The watersheds that were surveyed account for more than half of all US corn and soybean production. Farmers selected for the survey were those who grew corn and who had more than $100,000 in gross farm income in 2011; these larger-scale farmers cultivate approximately 80 percent of the farmland in the region.

The farmer survey data have been compiled in a “statistical atlas” that contains tables that present the data and maps that show the geographical distribution of survey results across the Corn Belt. Data presented include: Continue reading