Department of Agriculture receives $20 million grant

Mckenzie Vogt

Grants are offered to universities throughout every year, helping fund different types of research that can one day better educate students and professors. The Department of Agriculture received a $20 million grant Feb. 1 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Lois Wright Morton, professor of sociology and interim director, said the “USDA does a number of high priority challenge areas. This particular request for proposal [RFP] was focused on the intersection of agriculture.”

This research will take place during the next five years in the dominant corn-growing region of the United States, the North-central area. This area includes 12 different institutions, 10 of the institutions involved are land grant universities: Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, Iowa State, South Dakota State, University of Missouri and Lincoln University in Missouri.

“The North-central area produces eight billion of the 12 billion bushels of corn that are produced annually. The two largest producing states nationally are Iowa and Illinois,” Morton said.

This is the first time the Department of Agriculture has received a grant allowing it to combine personal research with others scientists’ around the area; almost all of those 10 universities have already done long-term corn and soybean experiments.

“Since the scientist know their own disciplinary really well this is an opportunity for them to create something far bigger than each individual. That is the exciting part of doing this,” Morton said.

This will allow future scientists to use and combine their work with other work that has happened nationally.

“We have a central database here at Iowa State so much of the data we will collect over the next five years will go into the centralized database, that database will be eventually connected to the national agricultural library,” Morton said.

All of the data will help scientists understand how the weather patterns and management practices interact with one another.

“Climate conditions in the Midwest effect how we produce corn and corn base cropping systems,” Morton said. “Basically we have already seen over the last 50 years an increase in growth, so the growing season is much longer than its been, we have also seen greater participation then we have in the past in terms of rain fall and snow.”

“We have also seen higher humidity levels in the summer time and extreme weather events.”

The 42 scientists and 30 graduate students from all over the region will be conducting different experiments that will help them better understand cover crops and cropping rotations.

The experiments will allow the scientists to see if changing management practices are necessary and could also offer solutions to producers allowing them to better support the production of agriculture crops that are important to the economics in their region.

Every land grant university has two or three sites. These sites are used to monitor precipitation, humidity and greenhouse gases.

Michael Castellano, assistant professor of agronomy, is the coordinator for the greenhouse gas measurements. These measurements will be from the soil surface to the atmosphere across eight sites.

Castellano will be working with other scientists who have an expertise in crop production and together they will be able to understand how these changes in agricultural strategies interact with greenhouse gases.

“In the past my personal grants have been in the area of soil biogeochemistry,” Castellano said. “For example, we have looked at how precipitation changes may affect the flux of greenhouse gases and the cycling of nitrogen in the soil.”

“This grant will be a major step in the direction of integrating my previously narrowly focused funded expertise with other scientist.”

Castellano teaches an environmental science 382 course at Iowa State, and expects this project to contribute a lot of new cutting edge information that he can incorporate into his curriculum.

“We are very committed to training the next generation of scientists,” Morton said.

For the next five summers they plan to offer climate camps for both high school and college students.

“This will help the students understand not only the impact of changes in climate but also the intersection in agriculture and the impacts that go with that,” Morton said.

Ohio State, Iowa State, Lincoln University and South Dakota State will have curriculum development for courses, allowing training for science teachers across the region.