WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A team of Purdue University
researchers is studying how cover crops and controlled drainage of water might
help agriculture become more resilient to the stresses of variable weather and
climate as farmers adapt to long-term issues such as those reported in the third
National Climate Assessment.
The assessment shares information that hits close to home
for Indiana farmers, including the effects that changing weather patterns such
as droughts, floods and harsh winters have on crops.
The assessment, a federal report released May 6 by the U.S.
Global Change Research Program, predicts that complications from climate change
will become increasingly unfavorable to agriculture in the next 25 years. It
recommends more research into possible solutions so that farmers can
The Purdue researchers are part of an effort of 10
land-grant universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural
Research Service and farmers in the upper Midwest studying ways to make
corn-based cropping systems more resilient and sustainable.
The project, known as the Sustainable Corn Project, is
funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The Purdue team’s work in studying cover crops and drainage
water management is aimed at helping crops become more productive amid variable
weather and climate, said agronomy professor Eileen Kladivko, a team member.
“We are researching practices that are not yet widely
adopted across the state,” she said.
Cover crops improve soil health over time by reducing
erosion and increasing water infiltration and retention, Kladivko said.
Mulch provided by cover crops can conserve soil moisture
longer during the growing season, resulting in reducing crop stress during dry
“Many of these benefits require several years of using cover
crops before they build up, however, so producers need to keep the long view in
mind,” Kladivko said.
Agronomy professor Phillip Owens is working to increase
understanding of the role of soil variability in soil health and agricultural
Professors Jane Frankenberger in agricultural and biological
engineering and Laura Bowling in agronomy are evaluating drainage water
management, sometimes called controlled drainage, for its effect on conserving
water that otherwise would drain away in the early growing season.
Some of the water can be stored within the soil itself by
raising the outlet of the drainage system immediately after spring planting. The
crops then would have increased availability to water during dry periods.
“While that system has shown only small increases in crop
yields in some years, the potential benefits may become more important in the
future due to climate variability and change,” Kladivko said.
The Purdue team includes three Purdue Extension county
educators — Hans Schmitz of Gibson County, Jon Neufelder of Posey County and
Bryan Overstreet of Jasper County. They work help to educate farmers in their
counties about corn production and climate.
Kladivko and Frankenberger will report some of their
findings at the Resilient Agriculture Conference Aug. 5-7 in Ames, Iowa.