organic

By Caroline Schneider, University of Wisconsin Madision

Organic farmers are in a tough spot when it comes to controlling weeds. Since conventional herbicides aren’t an option, many choose to use tillage — mechanically turning over the soil to upend weeds. However, tillage can take a toll on soil health and cause run-off. Increasingly, organic farmers are seeking better ways to control weeds while preserving soil health.

AMES, Iowa – Organic agriculture practices eschew many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, putting pressure on crops that conventional farming circumvents. That means an organic farmer who doesn’t use herbicides, for instance, would value crop varieties better suited to withstand weeds.

Enter Thomas Lubberstedt, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. Lubberstedt and a team of ISU researchers recently received a four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance organic corn varieties. By the end of the project, the team aims to have identified elite varieties that will improve the performance of corn under organic growing conditions.

“Our main goal is to figure out whether new genetic mechanisms can benefit organic field and sweet corn varieties,” Lubberstedt said. “We want to develop traits that can do well under organic conditions.”

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