Data from 5-year, multi-university sustainable corn project available

Researchers who participated in the Sustainable Corn Coordinated Agricultural Project, which was led by Iowa State University, are providing access to five years of data from the multi-university, corn-based cropping systems study at

The research was funded from 2011-17 with a $20 million USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. The research included nine states, 11 institutions and a 140-member team, which was led by Lois Wright Morton, project director and Iowa State University professor of sociology emeritus, and Lori Abendroth, project manager.

“The team focused on management practices that could build resiliency to weather variability while maintaining crop yields and reducing negative environmental impacts,” Abendroth said. “It was our goal to make the data available to other scientists in a collaborative effort to advance our understanding of the interactions between the crops we grow, local soils, changing climate and management decisions.”

The team collected research data from 2011-15 on 30 field research sites in the Midwest. The data includes plotting tools, plot maps, photographs and weather data. Practices evaluated included corn-soybean rotation, cereal rye cover crops within a corn-soybean rotation, extended and diverse crop rotations, water drainage management, canopy nitrogen sensing and tillage management.

The research areas included agronomy, soil science, greenhouse gas, water quality, drainage and entomology. Standardized protocols were developed as well as standards regarding data structuring and consistency for end-users. A data dictionary describes the measurements taken along with detailed field management data and notes to help users properly interpret the data. Data was collected at different frequencies ranging from yearly to sensor-based measurements collected in 15-minute intervals.

“Agricultural production systems are complex and the availability of high quality data, collected throughout the season and across different landscapes, are key to managing risk and sustainably producing crops,” Abendroth said.

The team posted the data to the USDA National Ag Library Ag Data Commons,, which is a long-term repository and provides additional access to the data. Teams receiving USDA-NIFA funding are required to make data publicly available once a project has ended. The Sustainable Corn CAP team encourages others to use the data to generate added value for research applications and educational purposes.

“This real-world data can be used in classroom exercises to better understand the responses and relationships inherent in agriculture. In addition, data can be used to train students in data sciences including visualization, analysis and interpretation,” Abendroth said.

Iowa State co-authors included Michael Castellano, associate professor in agronomy; Giorgi Chighladze, systems analyst in agricultural and biosystems engineering; Richard Cruse, agronomy professor; Aaron Gassmann, entomology associate professor; Matthew Helmers, agricultural and biosystems engineering professor; Daryl Herzmann, systems analyst in agronomy; Daren Mueller, associate professor in plant pathology and microbiology; Matthew O’Neal, entomology associate professor; and John Sawyer, agronomy professor.

The Sustainable Corn CAP was a transdisciplinary team funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA, Award No. 2011-68002-30190).