Corn research in Minnesota

Corn is one of the most ecologically and economically significant crops in Minnesota and the United States. Minnesota continues to be the 4th largest corn producing state in the U.S. 

From further leveraging of new technologies to better use of nutrients and water, University of Minnesota researchers are working to make corn production more efficient, profitable, and sustainable to benefit Minnesota’s farmers and environment.

Below is a sampling of ongoing MAES research projects related to corn. This list does not encompass all corn research at the University of Minnesota.

Advancing sustainable intensification of corn-based cropping systems
Jeffrey A Coulter
Nitrogen (N) is often the most limiting nutrient for corn production and is frequently applied in excess and far in advance of corn requirements. This leads to low corn recovery of applied N and risk of N losses which carry environmental and economic consequences. Enhanced synchrony of N application time and rate with corn N requirements is key to enhancing corn uptake of applied N, improving yield, and reducing N losses. The goal of this project is to identify and better understand agronomic practices for current and future corn-based cropping systems that increase yield and reduce risk of N loss, thereby enhancing environmental stewardship and profitability of crop production. 

Overcoming nutritional and quality barriers for increased used of corn co-products in swine diets
Gerald C Shurson
Corn distillers co-products have become major ingredients in swine diets in the U.S. and global feed industry. However, greater amounts of these co-products could be used in swine diets if key barriers for their use can be overcome. Furthermore, new production process technologies are being implemented to produce high protein corn co-products in several U.S. ethanol plants. As a result, research is needed to determine the nutritional value and optimum feeding applications of these new co-products in swine diets. This research project involves several experiments to obtain new knowledge and develop strategies to improve the use of corn co-products, specifically distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), in swine diets. 

Enhancing biological control in corn through insectary crops    
David Andow
The long-term goal of this research is to enhance natural biological control in corn in the Upper Midwest of the USA using wheat and/or barley as insectary crops for natural enemies. Focal corn pests are European corn borer and western bean cutworm, a newly emerged pest. Although predatory natural enemies can reduce this pest, generally, local predator populations are too low or too late to exert meaningful biological control. We are testing the hypotheses that (1) wheat and barley produce high populations of predators; (2) these predators emigrate from wheat and barley during crop maturation in mid- to late-July and colonize nearby corn fields; and (3) they enhance biological control of the key aboveground pests of corn.

Expanding knowledge of the biology and management of important soybean and corn diseases in the northern U.S.
Dean Malvick
The overall goals of this project are to develop and exploit new information on the biology and pathogenicity of key soybean and corn diseases that will lead to improved and durable disease management strategies, improved crop yields, and reduced risk of disease in production fields. While this research primarily focuses on an important set of soybean diseases, it is also determining the distribution and characteristics of selected corn foliar diseases in Minnesota. Diseases that have been problematic and of concern recently have been Goss's bacterial leaf blight and wilt, northern corn leaf blight, southern rust, and bacterial leaf streak. Each of these four diseases have unique characteristics and potential to damage this crop, but all can significantly reduce yields and increase production costs.

Identifying reactive nitrogen hotspots and hot moments within the US Corn Belt    
Timothy Griffis
Agricultural systems are having a profound influence on the global nitrogen (N) cycle and the flux of reactive nitrogen (Nr) into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a powerful greenhouse gas that has become the predominant stratospheric ozone-depleting substance emitted into the environment. Ammonia (NH3) is also a chemical of environmental concern because of its role in aerosol formation and its acute impact on human health. By placing better constraints on N2O and NH3 emissions, we believe that new management practices could be developed to help mitigate emissions while maintaining high productivity and promoting sustainability within the US Corn Belt. This research is identifying nitrous oxide and ammonia hotspots within the region related to crop and animal production, assessing how emissions relate to climate variability, investigating if alternative cropping systems can significantly reduce N2O and NH3 emissions, and working closely with two Minnesota commodity groups to mitigate reactive nitrogen in the environment.

Translating diversity in maize into improved crop performance
Candice Hirsch
In the past decade, corn researchers have largely focused on the development of genomic tools and descriptive studies of the level of variation within the species. We are working to move beyond descriptive studies into functional genomics to provide breeders and agronomists with the next wave of tools to tackle the improvement of corn as a crop plant. Our research is 1) determining the mechanisms that create genome content variation and the impact on phenotypic variation, 2) developing a toolbox of knowledge around food grade corn phenotypic evaluation and the genetic architecture of traits relevant to food grade corn, and 3) exploring the genotype-by-environment interaction using a set of near isogenic lines. This project will provide valuable knowledge and tools to translate diversity in corn into improved crop performance through functional genomic research. 

Maize breeding and statistical genetics    
Rex Bernardo
This research focuses on the breeding and genetics of the plant species Zea mays L.--which is called 'corn' by U.S. farmers and agronomists, and 'maize' by plant breeders and geneticists. The main outputs of this research will be new knowledge, increased information, better methods for breeding non-genetically modified corn, and new germplasm. Basic corn breeding research is e complemented by a sweet corn and African vegetable breeding effort for local immigrant communities in Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Advancing irrigation water management to enhance crop productivity and minimize environmental impacts
Vasudha Sharma
Efficient irrigation management is the key to reduce adverse environmental impacts and maintain crop productivity. This research integrates nitrogen (N) and irrigation management, and evaluates the impact of their interaction on crop yield and nitrate leaching in several soil types and climatic conditions in Minnesota. The overarching goal of this project is to develop and evaluate best irrigation and nitrogen management practices for irrigated regions of Minnesota that enhances crop water productivity while minimizing irrigation induced agricultural pollution. 

Developing integrated crop and weed management solutions for prevention and control of herbicide-resistant weeds in Minnesota
Debalin Sarangi
This research focuses on herbicide-resistant weeds, which are one of the major threats to crop production in Minnesota. We are confirming the presence and distribution of herbicide-resistant weeds in Minnesota’s cropping systems and evaluating weed emergence as a function of environmental factors. We’re also studying how different integrated weed management approaches, like narrow row spacing, cover cropping, harvest weed seed control, and chemical weed control, can be combined into an effective multi-tactic weed management approach.

A scalable monitoring, assessment and recommendation tool for nitrogen fertilizer management (Smart-N)
Zhenong Jin
Nitrogen (N) fertilizer management practices over the US maize growing system are currently not optimized, which reduce farmers' profits and affect environmental sustainability. To tackle these challenges, we are developing and refining a reliable tool to help stakeholders gain insights into the field-level N-fertilizer practices and make wise decisions at various scales. Through research, we’re developing a cyber-platform as a service solution that integrates the soil properties, weather and climate forecast, satellite remote sensing, and input price data with an ensemble of two advanced agroecosystem models. This helps optimize N-fertilizer recommendations at field scale for individual corn producers and support policy making analysis at regional scales for governments and regulators. 

Opening up the window of opportunity for liquid manure application in northern, increasingly unpredictable climates
Melissa Wilson 
The traditional windows of opportunity for manure application in Minnesota (fall and spring) have become increasingly shorter in the past few years due to an increasing trend of wet weather during this timeframe, keeping farmers out of the fields. There is a critical need to open up the window of opportunity for manure application as climate change continues to drive unpredictable weather patterns. One opportunity is using liquid manure as a sidedressed nitrogen (N) source for corn so that it can be applied in the summer and used immediately by a growing crop. This research is evaluating the impact of sidedressing manure into corn on corn yields as well as soybean yields in the following year and assess what corn growth stage is optimal for sidedressing manure with a dragline system.

Remote sensing applications in crop and animal agriculture
Ce Yang, Brian Steffenson, and David Mulla
This research explores new approaches utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and advanced remote sensing techniques to improve crop and animal agriculture productivity and sustainability. We’re integrating hyperspectral imaging and novel data analysis with advanced algorithms to solve agricultural challenges like nitrogen management for corn fields, stress detection for wheat/barley disease resistance breeding, and chicken egg gender detection before incubation. The expected output of these remote sensing projects is a systematic solution for agricultural researchers and farmers to better use remote sensing techniques in solving fundamental agricultural problems.