Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
Students recently attended a summer ag education seminar called Heart of the Heartland to hear Minnesota Corn Research and Promotions Council (MCR&PC) Research Director Paul Meints and Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a soil health expert with University of Minnesota Extension, discuss sustainability efforts by today’s farmers.
Meints discussed the 23 farmer-led, conservation-focused research projects funded by the Innovation Grant Program, which began last year as part of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s (MCGA) and MRC&PC’s mission for Minnesota corn farmers to become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible corn growers in the nation.
“That’s a big statement. Our farmers, who are driving the process, decided that in order for agriculture to sustain itself we have to be willing to adapt,” Meints said.
Meints said the Innovation Grant program is part of $4 million in yearly research funding approved by the group’s farmer leaders.
DeJong-Hughes presented the latest sustainable agriculture methods in soil used by farmers. Her main focus was improving soil health by reducing tillage, which can lead to increased organic matter levels and increased biological activity. Tillage disrupts microbes and other lifeforms that work symbiotically with plant roots to create well-structured soil.
“Poorly structured soil crumbles into a powder that moves easily with wind or water,” DeJong-Hughes told the class. “Well-structured soil is easier for roots to get through and easier for water to penetrate. With poorly structured soil, rainwater ponds on top, and if that’s on a slope, there goes your soil—it gets carried away by the water running off.”
In the future, Meints told the group renewable resources like corn could entirely replace petroleum products that degrade the environment. For example, MCGA-funded research performed at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Polymers is investigating ways to replace petroleum for renewable resources like corn to make rubber for car tires and more.
Sarah Goldman and Robert Harris III co-direct Heart of the Heartland, which is held at Carleton College in Northfield. The nonprofit summer program seeks to inspire students to become leaders in the ag sector.
Goldman, who recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in environmental sciences, was impressed by MCGA’s sustainability mission.
“To define sustainability, with so many farmers raising so many different types of crops, is really difficult,” said Goldman. “I am excited to see the research work that corn growers are funding. It’s a really bold mission.”