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Sustainable Corn Project Awarded Top Honors by USDA

October 7, 2016

AMES, Iowa — Lois Wright Morton, an Iowa State University sociology professor, was presented the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Partnership Award Oct. 6.

She accepted the award on behalf of the Climate Change, Mitigation and Adaption in Corn-based Cropping Systems team, which Wright Morton directs. The multi-state project was honored for supporting NIFA’s vision to catalyze transformative discovers, education, and engagement to address agricultural challenges.

In March 2011, Wright Morton convened a nine-state, 11-institution partnership to discover, engage, publish and teach strategies farmers can put in place throughout the Corn Belt to make corn-based cropping systems more resilient to current and predicted impacts of climate change. Project participants included 140 scientists, 86 graduate students, 133 undergraduates and 18 extension educators and outreach watershed coordinators. In addition, 159 farmers partnered with team scientists and educators to share their knowledge and learn from project research.

The United States produces 41 percent of the world’s corn, of which more than 60 percent is grown in the upper Midwest. An increasingly variable climate and increases in frequency and intensity of rainfall in this Corn Belt threaten crop production and degradation of soil and water resources.

“Farmers were critical partners in the project. Our findings reinforce and reflect this partnership,” said Wright Morton. “We found that adapting corn-based cropping systems to climate extremes will require farmers to experiment and evaluate established and new practices based on the soil and topography in their fields, their changing micro climate, and their personal resources, skills, values and goals.”

The project was funded for five years by a $20 million USDA-NIFA grant. Wright Morton and her team sought additional institutional partners and obtained an additional $25 million to expand the project’s research to include soybean production, impact of practices on crop pests and disease, water use efficiency in organic corn production and social-economic factors that promote or impede adoption of the management practices being studied.

Research data, from the management practices being studied, were collected over five years from 35 field research sites in the Corn Belt and were integrated with climate science data. The management practices were evaluated by multi-disciplinary teams of project researchers. The practices were: corn-soybean rotation, cereal rye cover crops within the corn-soybean rotation, extended and diverse crop rotations, organic corn cropping systems, drainage water management, canopy nitrogen sensing, tillage management (no-till and conventional) and landscape position. Results included 119 scientific findings and 59 recommendations.

Research findings have been reported in 154 refereed journal articles, 212 extension publications and 995 presentations to farmers, farm advisers, K-12 educators and others, resulting in a total audience reach of approximately 90,000 individuals. All findings and recommendations are being compiled into technical reports for future use by scientists, farm advisers, and extension educators and administrators.

A legacy of educational publications and videos for agricultural stakeholders and educators have been made available via Midwest Regional Climate Centers; the National Council for Science and the Environment’s website for K-12 educators; and Midwestern, land-grant university extension online stores, (for an example, see

The project’s database and infrastructure are being extended as project investigators develop new teams and build on the research. The database houses some of the most comprehensive systems-level data collected on Midwest agricultural systems and will be made public in 2017 at the USDA National Agricultural Library.

Participating institutions included Iowa State University, Lincoln University, in Missouri; Michigan State University; Ohio State University; Purdue University; South Dakota State University; University of Illinois; University of Minnesota; University of Missouri; University of Wisconsin; and the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Columbus, Ohio.

Participation in the project launched the careers of many of the graduate students. To learn about what they are doing now and to learn more about this project, see


Lois Wright Morton, Sociology, 515-294-2843,
Lynn Laws, Sociology, 515-294-7380,







We're scientists and farmers working together to create a suite of practices for corn-based systems that:

  • are resilient in times of drought
  • reduce soil and nutrient losses under saturated soil conditions
  • reduce farm field nitrogen losses
  • retain carbon in the soil
  • ensure crop and soil productivity

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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and
Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2011-68002-30190
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