FFAR Grant Improves Soil Health and Increases Farm Sustainability

AMES and WASHINGTON (April 1, 2019) – Midwestern farms produce a quarter of the world’s corn and soybeans, yet this bounty drains nutrients from the soil, reducing future yields. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $746,204 Seeding Solutions Grant to Iowa State University to improve soil health through prairie strips. The FFAR grant has been matched with funding from Iowa State University, Roeslein Alternative Energy, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and the Walton Family Foundation for a total $1.49 million investment.

Corn and soybean crops are crucial to supplying affordable and nutritious food. However, the nutrient depletion caused by corn and soybean production reduce future yields, which undermines long-term farm sustainability and profitability. In fact, soil erosion costs the agriculture industry about $44 billion annually and increases production costs by about 25 percent each year.

Dr. Cruse’s research aims to restore soil health by identifying how to integrate practices that provide continuous living cover on corn and soybean fields, including prairie strips and cover crops. Such practices ensure the presence of live roots in the ground throughout the entire year, which can stabilize soils, enhance soil health and improve farm-level economics.

“Prairie strips have been discussed in research circles for a decade,” said Dr. Richard Cruse, a professor in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University and Director of the Iowa Water Center. “We’re looking at the environmental and economic impact of prairie strips over time.”

Farmers have expressed interest in prairie strips and cover crops; however, knowledge gaps and perceived obstacles stymie the widespread adoption of these practices. Not only will this grant identify the most effective practices, but the grant also aims to tackle barriers that prevent farmers from adopting these practices.

“Prairie strips haven’t been adopted as quickly as some other management practices,” said Cruse. “We want to look at possible obstacles to implementation, like the flexibility of converting strips back into farm ground and changes that impact soil health as well as economic factors. For a farmer to make a change it has to either be net positive or neutral at the very least.”

Farmers need more information about impacts on soil erosion, changes in soil properties, and the yield and financial benefits of improving soil health. Cruse’s team will develop a model to inform the integration of soil management practices, while simultaneously maintaining current cropping systems; their goal is to help farmers limit soil loss and improve soil health.

“This research project has the potential to advance soil management practices that protect farm lands for generations to come, and help ensure that these farms remain profitable,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “The added benefit of this Seeding Solutions Grant is that it determines the best solution for our Midwestern corn and soybean farmers and helps them easily adopt these practices, so their farms can continue to thrive.”

FFAR’s Seeding Solutions grant program is an open call for bold ideas that address a pressing food and agriculture issues in one of the Foundation’s Challenge Areas. Iowa State’s research furthers FFAR’s 2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area, now the Soil Health Challenge Area, which enriches soil by building knowledge, fueling innovation and enabling the adoption of soil management practices.

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Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges.  FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

CONTACT: Colleen Klemczewski, 202.204.2605, cklemczewski@foundationfar.org