Researchers at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences earned a share of a $20 million United States Department of Agriculture grant to study the sustainability of corn production across the Midwest.
Corn is the No. 1 crop grown in the United States, both in terms of volume and value, according to USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service.
OSU scientists, participating in a five-year study alongside 42 researchers from nine land-grant universities, are studying the sustainability of producing corn in the states collectively known as the Corn Belt, extending from Ohio to Iowa.
“We are extremely pleased to have several Ohio State faculty participating on this major grant,” said Steve Slack, OSU’s associate vice president for agricultural administration and director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
“It is a testimony both to the excellence of our scientists as well as to the fact we have more than 4 million acres of corn in the state of Ohio,” Slack said. “The science represented in this project will be critical to keep Ohio and the United States at the forefront of corn production in the future.”
With increased public scrutiny over the energy-intense nature of corn production, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded OSU $3 million of the $20 million project. In all, nine universities and two USDA Ag Research Service installations will participate in the study.
The goal of the project, according to the CFAES research team, is to evaluate corn production practices based on scenarios of climate change and farm productivity.
“This is the first such effort to collect science-based data using identical methodologies from one end of the Corn Belt to the other,” said Richard Moore, assistant director of the School of Environment and Natural Resources on OARDC’s Wooster campus and one of four faculty researchers on the grant.
Moore said this spring the team will gather data at OSU’s several farm research laboratories on soil carbon, nitrogen and water movement. Throughout the growing season, researchers will compile that data alongside greenhouse gas emissions measured by special sensors at each site.
OSU crop scientists, such as Robert Mullen, OARDC and OSU Extension soil fertility and nutrient management specialist, will analyze the data to determine the impact of practices such as reduced tillage production and crop rotation on carbon emissions.
“We will be using sensor-based approaches to make nitrogen-rate decisions within that cropping system,” Mullen said. Those sensors, developed in part at OSU, will help determine the impact of nitrogen use on carbon emissions at the field level.
The selection of OSU as one of the participating research institutions is great news for Ohio farmers, according to Dwayne Siekman, CEO of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association and the Ohio Corn Marketing Program.
“This grant will help one of the premiere land-grant universities during a time of state and federal financial cutbacks,” Siekman said. “Ohio farmers and students will benefit greatly from this project at The Ohio State University.”
The USDA-NIFA project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration in the agriculture and forestry industries. The long-term goal of the grant is to reduce energy, nitrogen and water use by 10 percent and increase carbon sequestration by 15 percent by improving production and management practices.