USDA grant to help intensive analysis on ecological processes affecting natural farming

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University has obtained a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to discover the ecology of natural cropping techniques in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Purdue, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Western Illinois University in Macomb, will assess weed, insect and pathogen strain on corn, soybeans and small grains cultivated below normal and ecologically intensified natural farming techniques, together with evaluating yields throughout techniques.

“In the ecologically intensified strategy we attempt to harness as lots of the advantages that nature and ecology present as we will, all to enhance soil well being and decrease erosion,” stated Christian Krupke, a professor of entomology in Purdue’s College of Agriculture. That consists of utilizing inoculants — microbial enhancements — on the seed, planting crops that entice helpful insect predators and testing novel crop rotations.

“Ecology is occurring it doesn’t matter what,” Krupke stated. “Our problem as researchers and farmers is to harness extra of that ecology for our profit.”

The fieldwork will happen on the Northeast Purdue Ag Center, the University of Wisconsin Arlington Agricultural Research Station and the Western Illinois University Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm.  

“Cool beans!” exclaimed soybean specialist Shawn Conley, professor of agronomy on the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Wisconsin has an intensive variety of natural dairy farmers, and soybean is a key protein supply for these farmers,” he stated, noting that his state leads the nation in natural area crop acreage.

“This is an thrilling alternative to develop our work with the natural group in Wisconsin and past.”

The collaboration will allow the three universities to check ecological processes at work in natural farming techniques extra intensively than ever earlier than, stated Joel Gruver, professor of soil science and sustainability agriculture at Western Illinois University.

This crimson clover with cereal rye is being organically farmed in a collaborative challenge involving Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Western Illinois University. (Credit: Joel Gruver/Western Illinois University)
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“Historically we now have primarily targeted on ‘what’ and ‘how’ to do natural farming successfully. For instance, how one can management weeds and provide vitamins,” stated Gruver, who additionally directs WIU’s Organic Research Program. “This collaboration will enable us to take an built-in take a look at ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. For instance, why does biodiversity contribute to ecological features like biocontrol and nutrient biking, and the way can we seize the advantages of biodiversity extra successfully in natural techniques?”

Driving the collaboration is the need to make U.S. row-crop agriculture extra sustainable for the long run. “Sustainable” on this context consists of “good agriculture,” “regenerative agriculture” and different such phrases.

“The backside line for all of them is that issues are altering quickly, each on the facet of customers, who ask and pay extra for natural produce and meat, and on the facet of farmers, who’re very concerned with these new concepts,” Krupke stated. “We’re making an attempt to do what essentially the most progressive growers would possibly do after which examine that to a traditional natural strategy, which many growers are already embracing.”

One instance is planting buckwheat and cowpea in affiliation with corn and soybeans.

“We wish to experiment and see what sort of bugs we could entice which will change the communities current in these fields,” Krupke stated. An underlying facet of the work is to diversify the fields.

“Theoretically, a system that’s extra ecologically various, that has extra buffers and extra redundancies in opposition to invasions by pests and pathogens, needs to be extra capable of stand up to these invasions.”

The normal and ecologically intensified natural farming regimes might be examined at each university-owned analysis farms and industrial natural farms in all three states. The college researchers will switch what they study on their 5- and 10-acre fields to cooperating industrial growers to see if they’ll obtain the identical efficiency on a lot bigger fields.

The Purdue workforce consists of Ashley Adair, an Extension natural agriculture specialist in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture; weed scientist William Johnson, a professor of botany and plant pathology; Michael Langemeier, a professor of agricultural economics and affiliate director of the Center for Commercial Agriculture; and Darcy Telenko, an assistant professor of botany and plant pathology.

“Organic growers in Indiana are artistic,” Adair stated. “They’re at all times pushing the envelope when it comes to what’s attainable in natural grain manufacturing. They’re making an attempt new concepts that look past what the present researchers have investigated.”

The involvement of such artistic and adaptive growers is vital to the challenge’s success.

“We know what we wish to measure and the way we wish to measure it, however is our crop sequence sensible?” Adair requested. Will the analysis workforce’s intercropping plan — rising multiple kind of crop shut collectively — work for growers in several places with completely different soil sorts and climate situations? Does the workforce’s plan make financial sense, and can farmers be capable of market the crops grown for this research of their space?

“These and plenty of different questions may be answered by involving farmers as analysis collaborators and can assist us, as Extension professionals, present evidence-based and nuanced recommendation to clientele pursuing natural practices on their farms.”

Writer: Steve Koppes

Media contact: Maureen Manier,

Source: Christian Krupke,

Agricultural Communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Department Head,

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