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At the intersection of food, soil, climate, farming and water.

A busy winter in and out of the lab

People often ask what we do during the winter and the answer is easy, there’s never on off-season, just a different nature to the work. In fact, winter is often just as hectic as work during the growing season and this winter’s activities bear that out. On the outreach side, we held the 5th annual Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference February 27th in Stevens Point. Three hundred ninety-eight attended the conference to talk cover crops and hear Barry Fisher, NRCS Regional Soil Health Specialist speak to the need for cover crops and reduced tillage, drawing on 30-years’ experience in the field. Our Wisconsin Cover Crops Team also produced a six-part “Wisconsin Cover Crop and Soil Health Research” webinar series in January and February. A total of 461 agri-professionals from around Wisconsin participated, learning of results and recommendations from on-going research including that of the Institute. Between the two events, a total of 503.5 board approved continuing education credits were awarded to Certified Crop Advisors who participated. Both the webinar series and conference presentations are available online: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeG8yNmsnU-nTwVgTB2_Ffw      Finally, a paper entitled “Does cover crop radish supply nitrogen to corn?” was published on-line in Agronomy Journal https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/aj/first-look

On the research side, the corn breeding program processed nearly 3,000 samples from 2017 and packaged seed for the coming season. Processing includes analyzing grain for protein content and amino acid profiles using near infrared spectroscopy. We completed cover crop tissue sample processing and analysis for nitrogen and carbon content (see related story) on nearly 400 samples. This completes work on three multi-year studies which will be written up and published this summer as research briefs on our website and in scientific journals.

Winter also brings planning for new projects which means building collaborations and experimental design. New projects for 2018 include:
Industrial Hemp. We applied for research license from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Two trials evaluating the effect of variety, planting date and fertility on seed yield will be initiated this season.

SNAP Plus Cover Crop project. SNAP Plus is the most-used nutrient management software program in Wisconsin and includes a conservation compliance component where cover crops can be inserted to reduce erosion. We are designing multi-location trials and protocols to collect needed data to strengthen the models which predict erosion reduction. Project partners include the UW-Madison Department of Soil Science and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Center. With more data, we can show the conservation benefit of cover crop use in a very tangible way which we hope will increase cover crop use.

Corn Interseeding project. This study will evaluate the interactions of corn leaf architecture (upright vs floppy), corn population and June interseeded red clover on both corn and the cover crop. Interseeding may be a way to suppress weeds, reduce tillage and increase biodiversity in organic corn production. Our project partner is the USDA Agricultural Research Services Corn Genetics and Insect Unit in Ames Iowa.

Grant writing? That’s a continuous process and frankly, I’d rather think about getting back on the tractor for a little rest!


Research Director, Jim Stute, hosting a live webinar from his office at the Institute