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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Morris, Minnesota » Soil Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #366190

Research Project: Stewardship of Upper Midwest Soil and Air Resources through Regionally Adapted Management Practices

Location: Soil Management Research

Title: Regenerating agricultural landscapes with perennial groundcover for intensive crop production

item MOORE, KEN - Iowa State University
item ANEX, ROBERT - University Of Wisconsin
item ELOBEID, AMANI - Iowa State University
item FEI, SHUIZHANG - Iowa State University
item FLORA, CORNELIA - Kansas State University
item GOGGI, SUSANA - Iowa State University
item JACOBS, KERI - Iowa State University
item JHA, PRASHANT - Iowa State University
item KALEITA, AMY - Iowa State University
item KARLEN, DOUGLAS - Retired ARS Employee
item LAIRD, DAVID - Iowa State University
item LENSSEN, ANDREW - Iowa State University
item LUBBERSTEDT, THOMAS - Iowa State University
item MCDANIEL, MARSHALL - Iowa State University
item RAMAN, D - Iowa State University
item Weyers, Sharon

Submitted to: Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/13/2019
Publication Date: 8/15/2019
Citation: Moore, K., Anex, R., Elobeid, A.E., Fei, S., Flora, C.B., Goggi, S., Jacobs, K., Jha, P., Kaleita, A.L., Karlen, D.L., Laird, D.A., Lenssen, A.W., Lubberstedt, T., Mcdaniel, M.D., Raman, D.R., Weyers, S.L. 2019. Regenerating agricultural landscapes with perennial groundcover for intensive crop production. Agronomy. 9(8):458.

Interpretive Summary: The Midwest region of the US is a highly altered and intensively managed agricultural landscape where fields are generally managed for continuous corn or a simple corn and soybean rotation. Although highly productive and supported by a well-developed marketing and transportation infrastructure, current practices have raised numerous environmental concerns including soil degradation and impaired water quality. Insufficient soil cover for a significant portion of the year due to tillage and other factors is a primary cause for both concerns. To improve both soil and water resources, a regional, multidisciplinary, university and USDA-ARS team proposes establishing perennial soil cover by growing cool season grass species between the corn and soybean rows. When successfully developed, this management approach has the potential to mitigate soil and nutrient loss through erosion and leaching without compromising annual crop yields. The approach has the propensity to revitalize the ecosystem services once provided by native prairie landscapes throughout the region. The results will help researchers, land managers, and policy makers develop, support, and promote land management that provides both environmental and economic benefits.

Technical Abstract: The Midwestern U.S. landscape is one of the most highly altered and intensively managed ecosystems in the country. The predominant crops grown are maize (Zea mays L.) and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr]. They are typically grown as monocrops in a simple yearly rotation or with multiple years of maize (2 to 3) followed by a single year of soybean. This system is highly productive because the crops and management systems have been well adapted to the regional growing conditions through substantial public and private investment. Furthermore, markets and supporting infrastructure are highly developed for both crops. As maize and soybean production have intensified, a number of concerns have arisen due to the unintended environmental impacts on the ecosystem. Many areas across the Midwest are experiencing negative impacts on water quality, soil degradation, and increased flood risk due to changes in regional hydrology. The water quality impacts extend even further downstream. We propose the development of an innovative system for growing maize and soybean with perennial groundcover to recover ecosystem services historically provided naturally by predominantly perennial native plant communities. Reincorporating perennial plants into annual cropping systems has the potential of restoring ecosystem services without negatively impacting grain crop production and offers the prospect of increasing grain crop productivity through improving the biological functioning of the system.