FFAR Awards $1 Million Seeding Solutions Grant to Foundation for Agronomic Research to Measure Impact of On-Farm Nutrient Management Practices on Corn Yields, Soil Health, and Water Quality

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, today awarded a $1 million dollar Seeding Solutions grant to the Foundation for Agronomic Research to quantify the impact of nutrient management practices on crop yield, soil health, nutrient use efficiencies, and nitrogen losses. The FFAR grant is being matched by the 4R Research Fund for a total $2 million investment in practical data for corn and soybean farmers, whose decisions about how much and when to apply fertilizer affect not only their own crop yields but also the long-term viability of their land and water quality in surrounding areas.

Nutrient runoff is a documented water quality challenge across the Corn Belt, where this research will take place. Current research on efforts to reduce runoff from crop production systems points to a fine line between application of sufficient nutrients to keep soil healthy and application of a surplus of nutrients, which can negatively affect water quality when nutrients in the fertilizer drain or leak into the water table.

“The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support this important work to link nutrient management practices with practical data on crop performance and natural resource stewardship,” said Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “I look forward to seeing the practical results of this project benefit crop production, soil health, and farmers across the Corn Belt.”

Specifically, researchers will study 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices, a management approach that focuses on precision: using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place. Although many producers and policymakers seek to reduce negative downstream impacts of agricultural production, there is a lack of data to support best practice recommendations. Research is needed to document the implications of certain nutrient management practices for managing water quality while also maintaining or growing crop yields, maintaining soil health, and profitability.

By synthesizing information collected across eight sites in the U.S. and Canada, researchers aim to answer large-scale questions for farmers. Due to the established challenge of managing water quality across the Corn Belt, this project will take advantage of existing investments in research sites where data is already being collected.

Findings will be distributed to farmers, crop consultants, industry partners, and others influencing or managing nutrients on-farm.  Peer-reviewed scholarly publications will also serve to disseminate new knowledge.

Matthew Helmers, Ph.D., a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and the Dean’s Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, is helping to coordinate this team of collaborators.

“This is really a one of a kind opportunity to leverage existing investment in agronomic and drainage research sites across the Corn Belt to answer additional questions about 4R practice effectiveness related to crop yield, soil health, nutrient use efficiencies, nutrient losses with leaching, and gaseous nitrogen losses,” said Helmers.

Research will be conducted at eight sites in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Ontario, Canada. A stakeholder advisory group, including growers in the project states, will ensure that research outcomes met the needs of farmers.

The primary project team includes scientists from Agriculture & Agrifood Canada, the Environmental Defense Fund, the International Plant Nutrition Institute, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Missouri, University of Minnesota, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

Outcomes of this study will continue to yield benefits for the producer community and the natural resources relied upon by corn and soybean producers; data will be aggregated in a public database so that others can build upon the findings with future studies on nutrient management.

This project is being supported by FFAR through its Seeding Solutions grant program, which calls for bold, innovative, and potentially transformative research proposals in the Foundation’s seven Challenge Areas.  This grant supports the Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge, which aims to increase soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

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