USDA grant to support intensive research on ecological processes affecting organic agriculture


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University received a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to explore the ecology of organic farming systems in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Purdue, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Western Illinois University at Macomb, will assess weed, insect, and pathogen pressure on corn, soybeans, and small grains grown in standard and ecologically intensified organic farming, while comparing yields between systems.

“In the ecologically intensified approach, we try to harness the benefits that nature and ecology provide as much as possible, all to improve soil health and minimize erosion,” said Christian KruppeProfessor of entomology at Purdue College of Agriculture. This includes using inoculants – microbial enhancements – on seeds, planting crops that attract beneficial insect predators, and testing new crop rotations.

“Ecology happens no matter what,” Krupke said. “Our challenge as researchers and farmers is to further exploit this ecology to our advantage.”

Fieldwork will take place at the Northeast Purdue Ag Center, the University of Wisconsin’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station, and Western Illinois University’s Allison Biological Research and Demonstration Farm.

“Fresh beans!” exclaimed the soy specialist Shawn Conleyprofessor of agronomy at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Wisconsin has a large number of organic dairy farmers, and soybeans are a critical protein source for those farmers,” he said, noting that his state was the nation’s first in organic field crop acreage. .

“This is an exciting opportunity to expand our work with the organic community in Wisconsin and beyond.”

The collaboration will allow the three universities to study the ecological processes at work in organic farming systems more intensively than ever before, said Joel GruverProfessor of Soil Science and Sustainable Agriculture at Western Illinois University.

This Crimson Clover with Grain Rye is grown organically in a collaborative project involving Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Western Illinois University. (Credit: Joel Gruver/Western Illinois University) Download image

“Historically, we have mainly focused on ‘what’ and ‘how’ to do organic farming effectively. For example, how to control weeds and provide nutrients,” said Gruver, who also leads WIU’s biological research program. “This collaboration will allow us to take an integrated look at the questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’. For example, why does biodiversity contribute to ecological functions such as biological control and nutrient cycling, and how can we more effectively capture the benefits of biodiversity in biological systems? »

This collaboration is driven by a desire to make American row crop agriculture more sustainable in the long term. “Sustainable” in this context includes “smart agriculture”, “regenerative agriculture” and other similar terms.

“The main thing for each of them is that things change quickly, both on the side of consumers, who demand and pay more for organic products and meat, and on the side of farmers, who are very interested in these new ideas. “, says Kruppe. “We’re trying to do what more progressive growers could do, and then compare that to a conventional organic approach, which many growers are already taking.”

An example is the planting of buckwheat and cowpea in association with maize and soya.

“We want to experiment and see what kind of insects we can attract that might change the communities in these fields,” Krupke said. An underlying aspect of the job is to diversify areas.

“Theoretically, a system that is more ecologically diverse, that has more buffers and more redundancies against pest and pathogen invasions, should be better able to withstand those invasions.”

Standard and ecologically intensified organic farming regimes will be tested on both university-owned research farms and commercial organic farms in the three states. University researchers will transfer what they have learned on their 5- and 10-acre fields to cooperating commercial growers to see if they can achieve the same performance on much larger fields.

The Purdue team includes Ashley Adairextension specialist in organic agriculture Horticulture and landscape architecture; weed scientist William JohnsonProfessor of botany and plant pathology; Michel LangemeierProfessor of agricultural economics and associate director of Commercial Agriculture Center; and Darcy Telenkoassistant professor of botany and phytopathology.

“Indiana’s organic growers are creative,” Adair said. “They are always pushing the boundaries in terms of what is possible in organic grain production. They are trying new ideas that go beyond what current researchers have studied.

The involvement of these creative and adaptive producers is essential to the success of the project.

“We know what we want to measure and how we want to measure it, but is our sequence of cultures practical? Adair asked. Will the research team’s intercropping plan — growing more than one crop type in close proximity — work for growers in different locations with different soil types and weather conditions? Does the team’s plan make economic sense and will the farmers be able to market the crops grown for this study in their area?

“These questions and many more can be answered by involving farmers as research collaborators and will help us, as extension professionals, to provide evidence-based and nuanced advice to clients pursuing organic practices on their farms.”

Writer: Steve Kopes

Media contact: Maureen Manier, [email protected]

Source: Christian Krupke, [email protected]

Agricultural communications: 765-494-8415;

Maureen Manier, Head of Department, [email protected]

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