Research

Research on the benefits from prairie strips placed in crop fields continues to grow at Iowa State University.

STRIPS, or “Science-based Trails of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips,” is a project investigating strips of farmland converted to native prairie plants. These strips are typically created between crops, at the edge of farm fields, or on lower performing fields.

The soil fertility tests farmers have used for decades to measure nitrogen levels don’t account for the vast majority of the nitrogen in soils, so Iowa State University scientists helped develop a new test that yields more accurate results by using soil biology.

Thomas Lübberstedt is pushing the boundaries of genetics and its use in developing tools and methods to make plant breeding more efficient.

His work is leading to improved virus resistance and more sustainable agricultural systems around the world. The Frey Chair in Agronomy and Director of the Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding, Lübberstedt recently received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Outstanding Achievement in Research Award.

International Credentials
Lübberstedt grew up on a horticultural farm in Germany and earned his degrees from the universities of Munich and Hohenheim. He spent several years working in Germany, and then Denmark, before coming to Iowa State in 2007 to take an endowed chair position.

Over the past few decades, Iowa’s agriculture has experienced a period of consistently high yields. The perfect distribution and timing of humidity, rainfall and heat have led to bumper crops of corn and soybeans. This “Goldilocks” period is partly due to global warming, but experts believe farmers shouldn’t expect it to last.

In an article from Physics Today’s February issue, “Iowa’s agriculture is losing its Goldilocks climate,” scientists Eugene Takle and William Gutowski describe the challenges farmers could expect to see to maintaining high yields if global warming continues along predicted trends.

Ask any farmer and they will explain the importance of soil. While seasonal weather can be the difference from a good harvest and a worrisome one, the soil moderates the long-term productivity of that harvest. The inherent properties of soil types are vital to know when it comes to management practices on any agricultural landscape.

“We rely on soil for so many different things, the list can be overwhelming at times,” said Bradley Miller, assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. “You think about why the state of Iowa has the agricultural economy that it does, and that is largely because of the soil it has.”

Dense urban areas use up more energy, water and food resources than they can produce themselves, forcing them to rely on external sources. But a team of researchers, including our Dr. Matt Liebman, is imagining bold new ways to make Midwestern cities more self-reliant.

The Sustainable Cities Research Team recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a framework for analysis of food, energy and water systems for greater Des Moines, which includes the city and the surrounding six-county area, and to formulate scenarios that could result in a more sustainable city. The team includes scientists from a wide range of disciplines at Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and University of Texas at Arlington.

Integrating perennial crops into corn and soybean rotations doesn’t consistently increase the ability of soils to store carbon, according to a new study that defies expectations for how diverse cropping systems affect carbon sequestration.

A new study that examines the genetics behind the bitter taste of some sorghum plants and one of Africa’s most reviled bird species illustrates how human genetics, crops and the environment influence one another in the process of plant domestication.

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