Forecast and Assessment of Cropping sysTemS (FACTS; 2015-present)

FACTS is an ongoing project developed to forecast and evaluate real-time soil-crop dynamics in specific ISU fields. Predictions and measurements will be frequently updated as new information becomes available during the growing season.

What we do:

  • During the growing season we provide real-time measurements and forecasts for weather, soil water and nitrogen, crop water and nitrogen, yield predictions, crop stage and heat/frost stress.
  • Before/after the growing season we benchmark production, economic, and environmental performance, estimate the yield gaps, and perform what-if scenario analysis to identify management practices with the highest profits and lowest environmental impacts.

Why we do it:

  • To provide quantitative answers to questions that farmers commonly ask such as what is going to be the yield this year, how much nitrogen is in the soil today, do I have enough soil water for the next few days, what if I had used more nitrogen, planted more seeds, gotten more rain.
  • To improve the science behind predictive tools, ground-truth predictions, and explore different approaches to accurately forecasting yields.

Corn management following cereal rye cover crop with strip tillage and starter N fertilization (2018-2020)


Cover crops are a conservation practice that can have tremendous benefits for improving soil health and reducing nutrient losses. There is limited research available on management practices that provide farmers information to facilitate cover crop adoption and minimize potential yield limiting factors.


Evaluate the effects of a winter rye cover crop-free zone through the use of strip-tillage and starter fertilizer to improve seedling vigor and eliminate yield drag associated with winter cereal rye. This objective will be reached by elucidating treatment effects on: 1) corn growth and development throughout the growing season; 2) disease, insect and weed incidence, severity, and prevalence; and 3) winter cereal rye biomass growth and nutrient uptake.


This study will be conducted at the ISU Agricultural Engineering and Agronomy Farm (AEA) and one outlying research farm. Experimental treatments will consist of two tillage systems (strip-tillage and no-tillage) and three starter N fertilizer rates. Cover crops will be seeded in the fall into soybean. Cover crops will be terminated 10-14 days ahead of corn planting for all treatments as per current recommendations. Cover crop and corn crop growth and development parameters will be collected throughout the respective life cycles. Corn seedling roots will be evaluated for root rots. Insect incidence and weed density/community notes will be determined.

Improving cereal rye cover crop BMPs to increase adoption of cover crops by Iowa farmers (2018-2020)


The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) calls for cover crop implementation on over 12 million acres, which equates to every other field. Despite numerous environmental benefits associated with cover crops, many farmers are still hesitant to change their current production practices. Major barriers to introducing cover crops as a conservation practice include cost of implementation, yield drag, and knowledge. This multi-disciplinary team will address the barriers of using cover crops and develop best management practices (BMPs) for including a cover crop in a corn-soybean production system in Iowa for “hesitant” farmers. Using these data, we will develop a set of BMPs with a partial cost budget to encourage farmers to include cover crops in corn-soybean production systems, and therefore meet the INRS goals of cover crop acreage adoption in Iowa.


This research will evaluate the effect of cover crop seeding rate, seeding method, and termination timing on corn production, soil health and nutrient recycling. Treatment effects on (i) cover crop and corn growth and development (ii) weed, pest and disease pressure, (iii) nutrient recycling and (iv) soil health will be assessed. In addition, partial budgets for treatments will be developed, and Iowa farmers surveyed to identify common methods of seeding cover crops users and perceived efficacy of those methods.


A comprehensive field study at the ISU Ag Engineering and Agronomy Farm, with smaller studies at the ISU Southeast Research Farm, Crawfordville, and Northwest Research Farm, Sutherland will be done. Experimental treatments will consist of a three seeding rates, two planting methods (drilled and broadcast) seeding rates, and rye termination timing. Cover crops will be seeded after soybean. The following data will be collected: cover crop growth and development in the fall and spring; corn growth and development throughout the growing season; weed, insect and disease pressure; soil and plant nitrate, soil health parameters. Relationships between data variables will be evaluated to improve our understanding of factors influencing the winter rye-corn cropping systems.

Redefining the field edge (2018-2021)

This project seeks to reevaluate the traditional “field edge,” investigating the long-term productivity and profitability of in-field low lying depressional areas. While traditionally planted to agricultural row crops, in the majority of years these marginal areas require significant inputs resulting in only modest crop yields and returns on investment. Can these marginal land areas be taken out of row crop production and transitioned to perennial vegetation to increase the return on investment with fewer acres and less risk? In addition, what benefits can be realized for water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat?

This hybrid research and demonstration project seeks to work with five farmers to evaluate the feasibility of planting edge-of-field depressional areas to perennial vegetation, investigating the related agronomic, economic, water quality, soil health, and wildlife implications. Further, the project team will conduct an in-depth social science assessment to better understand the attitudes and perceptions of farmers and landowners towards conservation practices and alternatives to traditional grain crops, specifically looking at barriers to adoption and measuring how attitudes change in the five farmers over the course of the project. Project findings will be presented in a comprehensive, engaging, and accessible case study format (including printed publications, infographics, video, and audio components), which will be broadly distributed to farmers, landowners, agricultural and natural resource professionals, and college students via the Conservation Learning Group, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and additional conservation partners across the North Central Region.

Corn Stand Reduction and Green Snap (2019-2021)

Stand Reduction:

National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) has conducted research for hail adjusting loss instructions for corn that include assessing losses from stand reduction/loss, defoliation, direct damage to stems and ears, etc.  Past stand reduction research has led to the development of two loss tables for stand reduction/losses. One applies to stand reduction up through the 10th leaf stage (approx. V7) and the other applies to stand reduction losses from the 11th leaf stage (V8) through the 17th leaf stage (V14).  Stand reduction/loss after the 17th leaf stage is currently counted on a 1 for 1 basis (100 plant sample-each plant counts as 1%). This research project will be used to explore yield loss from green snap below the primary ear node as late as tassel stage.  While some secondary ears are produced at lower nodes on snapped plants, the remaining fully-intact plants may to use the extra growing space and compensate with greater per-ear yields.  If this is true, plants in the 18th leaf growth stage through tassel should not be counted on a 1 for 1 loss basis for stand reduction as they currently are.

Green snap

National Crop Insurance Services defines green snap as a break or severing of the stem between the brace nodes and the primary ear node.  However, it is common for breaks to occur above the primary ear node.  NCIS implemented an exploratory “above the ear node” break in a recently completed research project and results suggested that losses from ‘above the ear breaks’ may be congruent with defoliation losses of a similar magnitude (i.e. 20-25% of leaves lost when break is above ear). This research will further explore the effect of green snap above the primary ear.