Purdue University has kicked off a project to learn how best to diversify crops grown in the U.S. corn belt. The idea is to make farms in states like Indiana more resilient to extreme heat, flooding, and natural disasters.
When a farmer grows just one or two crops, it’s easier for a single weather event to wipe out their entire field. Researchers with the Diverse Corn Belt project are hoping to engage with hundreds of farmers in Indiana, Iowa and Illinois to find out the best ways to diversify what they grow.
Liz Brownlee is a farmer in southern Indiana and the president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. Eight years ago, Brownlee and her husband started slowly converting her 100 acre family farm from corn and soybeans to diverse pasture land, native grasses and pollinator habitat.
“All those different types of plants are bringing up minerals from the soil. They're capturing sunlight in different ways. They're growing best at different times of the year. And so there's always food for our animals, because we've planted a diversity of plants," Brownlee said.
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Purdue professor Linda Prokopy researches conservation in agriculture and leads the Diverse Corn Belt project. She said farmers who grow corn and soybeans receive more federally subsidized insurance. Prokopy said that means even if they lose their crop, they can often still make a profit.
“So it's very, very rational for farmers to continue to farm only corn and soybeans because of that guarantee from the federal government. And we're arguing that that's really not the best thing for farmers or for — for the country, quite frankly," Prokopy said.
Purdue hopes to find out what new crops, livestock, or agroforestry practices farmers would be interested in incorporating into their farms and what ways of diversifying their farms would work best for them.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.