Co-Producing Community - An integrated approach to building smart and connected nutrient management communities in the US Corn Belt
Lead PI:
Andrew Margenot

Farmers in the United States (US) Corn Belt produce ~30% of the world’s corn and soybean, which depends on the use of fertilizers containing both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). However, due to a lack of consistent and reliable information, these farmers tend to over-apply fertilizer. This practice directly affects farmers, as they are paying higher fertilizer costs than necessary, and negatively impacts environmental sustainability. Yet, farmers’ perceptions of nutrient management challenges vary widely as does their willingness to adopt novel nutrient management approaches. Working collaboratively with the Illinois Farm Bureau, the University of Illinois Extension, and engaging farmers directly through the these partnering organizations, the team of academic and community partners aims to build a smart and connected "Nutrient Management Community (NuMC)" to help farmers adopt effective and trusted nutrient management tools to address critical water quality issues stemming from nutrient runoff while reducing farm nutrient application costs. The project is built on the premise of voluntary adoption of nutrient management practices and includes social science questions to assess the reasons and strategies for encouraging adoption of voluntary “best practices.”

Enabling farmers to manage N and P with greater precision is needed to increase farmer profitability and decrease off-farm losses of nutrients, which can compromise water resources. The objective of this research is to develop science-driven recommendations on N and P management that can be tailored to different farmers’ needs, focusing on the heart of the US Corn Belt: Illinois. This work has three objectives: (1) identify major constraints on how Illinois farmers manage N and P management, and determine to what extent these constraints vary among farmers; (2) determine how much N and P are stocked in soils across a diversity of Illinois farm (including through the use of soil sensors and satellite observations), and how this soil nutrient capital contributes to crop growth in order to model field-specific fertilizer needs; and (3) develop smart and connected technology solutions that enable constrained farmers to join a Nutrient Management Community (NuMC). This work will advance understanding of agricultural management by and for farming communities by providing insights on interrelated social science, biogeochemistry, and technology dynamics. The proposed approach will produce a community-based cyberinfrastructure that will address an urgent need: providing Illinois farmers direct access to high-quality and unbiased information on management nutrients.

Andrew Margenot
Dr. Margenot addresses the literal foundation of all cropping systems: soils. His research team evaluates how human activities can enhance or compromise soil services to society, with an emphasis on food security from urban and rural agroecosystems in the US Midwest and East Africa. The goal of these efforts is to help advance how we monitor and manage soils as natural capital.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2025
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sponsor: NSF
Award Number: 2125626