A few species of crops occupy more land than any natural or non-natural land cover type in the Upper Midwest, and these crops are growing for only a few months of the year. When crops are not growing, food, fuel, and fiber are not being produced. We can use farmland and solar energy more efficiently. When crops are not growing, soils are lost to wind and rain, nutrients are leached to groundwater, and wildlife finds the barren land useless. By extending the season during which crops grow, we can increase farm productivity and prevent environmental damage.
Our goal is to develop new crops and cropping systems that have extended growing seasons so that they are more efficient at using resources. More efficient resource use can lead to increased farmer profitability and fewer environmental pollutants.
Our objectives include:
1) Developing perennial crops that complement our current agricultural system so that perennials can be grown where annuals cannot
2) Developing perennial crops that can replace annuals on land that is vulnerable to soil loss, nitrogen leaching, and other environmental impacts when farmed with annuals.
3) Modifying our current systems to grow “cover crops” on the land when our conventional annual crops are not growing.
4) Designing cropping systems that have multiple plants growing among one another simultaneously (i.e. polycultures) to reduce our reliance on chemical inputs and environmentally destructive practices.
In a landscape where corn is nearly done growing and nearing time for harvest, intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) is just emerging from seed to provide ground cover all winter and for many years to come.