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Perennials Could Solve Global Warming Farming Problems

April 5, 2010

AMES, Iowa - Wet soil conditions from winter's heavy snowfall have Iowa farmers worrying about the impact of all that extra water. Too much water can make it difficult to till the soil, and if conditions remain wet, it can also hurt the harvest. With weather extremes expected to become more common due to climate change caused by global warming, researchers at Iowa State University are looking at perennial crops to moderate the impact.

Matt Helmers, ISU associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, leads the research team. He says developing perennial-based crop systems could improve water absorption, which can be helpful during both droughts and floods.

"I think more and more we are going to have to think about how we manage water. Results like we're collecting will help us strategically target planting or development of certain perennial-based systems."

Helmers says changes in climate make it necessary to look for new ways to manage crop systems.

"For the foreseeable future, we're going to have a lot of corn and soybean in Iowa. And as we seem to see more fluctuation in our weather patterns and precipitation patterns, it will be important to understand how different plants thrive under different conditions."

The team is studying 16 different perennials or crop combinations. Helmers says better water absorption would ease the erosion of valuable soil and nutrients during floods. The project is funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Aricka Flowers, Public News Service - IA