Researchers help lead project for more diverse Corn Belt

Jan 04, 2024

In Iowa more than 24 million acres are devoted to crops. That represents about 68 percent of the state’s land area -- and more than 94 percent of that land is used to produce corn and soybeans, according to the 2021 National Agriculture Statistics Survey.

“Iowa’s agriculture is highly specialized, with almost all of its cropland planted to corn and soybeans,” said J.G. Arbuckle, professor of sociology at Iowa State University, and director of the annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. “However few farmers think agricultural specialization has generally been positive for farmers and rural communities.”

Arbuckle is one of the investigators on a new multistate project seeking to address that trend. The $10 million five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Diverse Corn Belt Project launched in 2022 to explore the potential to increase diversification of crops and livestock on farms in the Midwest.

Overall the team includes more than 30 investigators who are working with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois to envision and evaluate more diverse agricultural systems for the Midwest. They aim to chart roadmaps that can help the region reverse trends that have been building for decades.

Linda Stalker Prokopy, Diverse Corn Belt Project director, and a professor and chair of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue University, said, “Our goal is to plant the seeds for new opportunities for farmers that will enhance resilience of both individual farms and the agricultural landscape across our region.”

Focus groups have already been held to gather insight and ideas from farmers representing a range of ages, farm sizes and degrees of diversification. Members of the team are analyzing the initial data and plan to conduct more focus groups. The team also plans to collect data on farmer and agricultural stakeholder perspectives through a mail survey and individual interviews.

Reimagining Agricultural Diversity Teams will be a unique feature of the project. While focus groups will center specifically on farmers, Reimagining Agricultural Diversity Teams will include stakeholders throughout the agricultural value chain, such as crop advisers, bankers, processors, retailers, non-farming landowners and policymakers. The Reimagining Agricultural Diversity Teams will offer a chance for longer-term dialogue, exploration and visioning.

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