The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, based at Iowa State University, has awarded grants to 17 innovative research and demonstration projects that promise to move agricultural production toward greater sustainability while improving Iowa's soil and water resources.
The research will provide new knowledge on soil health, specifically how phosphorus moves under different cropping systems and how certain changes deep below the surface (given the prevalence of minimum-tillage systems) could make soils more resilient during drought or after heavy rainfall. Other projects explore alternative systems for biomass production, growing fruits and vegetables, or providing habitat for native pollinators.
The 17 new grants, totaling $1,031,853 fall under all four of the Leopold Center's research initiatives – Ecology, Marketing & Food Systems, Policy, and Cross-Cutting.
"Natural systems are highly complex and diverse. These projects will help us better understand this diversity so we can use those principles to improve ag production and also our food system in Iowa," says Leopold Center director Mark Rasmussen.
New grants bring Center's research commitments to $1.3 million
The grants vary in length; four projects are for one year, 12 will be done over two years and three projects are for three years. In addition to the new projects, work will continue on a number of other multi-year projects already in progress and supported by the Leopold Center's long-running competitive grants program. The new grants bring the Leopold Center's current-year research commitments to $1.3 million.
• Ecology—The Ecology Initiative is funding the soil health projects – on phosphorus movement and changes in deep soil – and three other new projects for a total cost of $371,125. Two grants will focus on prairies: the University of Northern Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center will create a community of practice for prairie establishment and management, and an ISU research team will collect bird and pollinator data from established prairie STRIPS on private farms. Another project will study how landscape diversity affects native pollinators.
• Marketing—Five new projects in the Marketing and Food Systems Initiative are receiving $226,049 in competitive grant funding. The ISU Community Design Lab will expand its successful Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit from three to six Iowa communities, and Global Greens Farm in Des Moines will offer a small-farm business incubator for recent immigrants. Other projects look at supply chain logistics, institutional markets, and working with nontraditional retailers to sell local food items.
• Policy—The Policy Initiative is supporting two new projects at a cost of $84,500. This project will develop a guide for county zoning issues related to local foods (a 2014 project examined municipal zoning issues). The Drake University Ag Law Center will host four regional workshops and a 2-day conference on conservation policy in Iowa.
• Cross-Cutting—Five projects in the Cross-Cutting Initiative are receiving $350,179 in competitive grant funding. Topics include organic dairies, extended rotations, tillage management in organic systems, long-term sustainability of growing miscanthus for biomass, and grazing systems for beef cattle.
Descriptions of the work, who will be conducting each project and other details are available on the Leopold Center website. Below is a list of the 17 new competitive grants.
The list of Leopold Center 2015 new competitive grants
• Blurring the lines between working and conservation lands: Enhancing bird and pollinator habitat using prairie strips
• Crop diversity effects on soil organic matter and nitrate retention in surface and subsoils
• Impacts of landscape diversity and organic practices on abundance and health of bee pollinators
• Improving soil health and water quality through better soil phosphorus assessment and management practices
• Prairie contour strips: Demonstrating the importance of custom seed mix for biological integrity
MARKETING AND FOOD SYSTEMS INITIATIVE
• Agricultural Urbanism Toolkit Years 2 + 3
• Building producer capacity for institutional food distribution
• Increasing local food consumption in rural communities by partnering with non-traditional food retailers
• Small-farm business development incubators for refugee farmers
• Supply chain management for Iowa regional food systems
• Protecting Iowa's land legacy: Soil and water conservation policy – past, present and future
• Reducing local regulatory barriers to local foods Phase 2: Local foods and county zoning project
• Budgeting for organic dairying
• Impacts of contrasting rotation systems and weed management regimes on weed dynamics and agroecosystem health
• Linking soil and water quality with crop performance across a continuum of tillage and management strategies, Years 2 and 3
• Long-term assessment of miscanthus productivity and sustainability (LAMPS)
• Sustainably growing Iowa's beef herds: Evaluating systems that provide economic opportunities while protecting soil and water resources