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$10M USDA Grant to Fund UMD-led Project to Sustain Corn Belt Crop Production

By Maryland Today Staff

University of Maryland researchers will lead a five-year, $10-million project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help farmers in the Corn Belt maximize crop production.

The researchers plan to develop the Dashboard for Agricultural Water use and Nutrient management (DAWN) for corn, soybean and bioenergy crop production in the Midwestern United States. They expect DAWN to identify innovative ways of increasing land- and water-use efficiency, given competing resource demands and varying water availability and quality.

“Our goal is to create a predictive tool that translates complex system science into reliable, usable information for agricultural decisionmakers so that they can optimize pre-season, in-season and longer-term practices,” said the project’s lead investigator, Xin-Zhong Liang, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at UMD with a joint appointment in the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC). “To do this, we have to link local land-use and water-use practices to large-scale feedbacks and deliver that information effectively to stakeholders.”

Routine decisions such as crop choice, fertilizer use, irrigation scheduling and reservoir operations can have wide-ranging and long-term impacts on water availability, nutrient loss, agricultural production and sustainability. The changing climate and enhanced weather extremes also threaten production: rainfed crops are vulnerable to droughts; heat stress raises water demand; and floods threaten crop growth and water quality.

The project team includes researchers, extension specialists, educators and stakeholders. Partners include researchers at Colorado State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska and FamilyFarms Group.

Other UMD investigators include Applied Environmental Health Professor Amy Sapkota, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Professor and Chair and ESSIC Director Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm and other ESSIC faculty, staff and students.

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