Crops occupy more land than any other natural or non-nature land cover type in the Upper Midwest, and most crops are living for a small fraction of the year. When crops are not growing, food, fuel, and fiber are not being produced. Use farmland and solar energy more efficiently can increase overall production and improve rural economies. When crops are not growing, soil can be washed away to lakes, rivers, and streams, where it acts as a pollutant and causes ecological and recreational problems. When crops are not growing, nitrogen from fertilizers and other sources can leach to the groundwater and contaminate rural drinking water sources. By broadening the season during which crops grow, we can increase farm productivity, prevent environmental damage, and protect vital natural resources necessary for healthy communities.
Our goal is to develop new crops and cropping systems that change the paradigm of agriculture so that it functions in harmony with the natural environment. We are working to 1) develop perennial crops to replace annuals, 2) modify our current systems to grow “cover crops” on the land when our main crops are not growing, and 3) design cropping systems that have multiple plants growing among one another simultaneously to reduce our reliance on chemical inputs and environmentally destructive practices.