The landscape across the Corn Belt is dominated by just two crops – corn and soybeans. This system is inherently leaky; crops grow during the summer months and leave the land uncovered the remainder of the year when soils are vulnerable to precipitation and wind. Extending the rotation with a cool season small grain (oats, wheat, rye, triticale) coupled with a cover crop can keep the land covered year-round and offer an essential unlock and speedier path to profitable regenerative agriculture farming systems.
Small grains were once a common part of Midwest cropping systems but are now scarce in the Corn Belt. Markets have disappeared as animals moved away from the farm and the feed system became optimized for corn and soy. Today farmers want to diversify and grow small grains but cite the lack of markets as their biggest barrier to bring small grains back into their rotation system.
Together with Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and corporate food and beverage partners, we’re documenting the sustainability value that can be captured through extending the corn/soy rotation with a small grain and cover crop, uncovering how to support farmers to be successful in integrating a small grain into their system, and exploring what is needed to scale to create market-pull for more diverse rotations in the Corn Belt.