ISU researchers study economic productivity of Iowa farmland


A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet/Iowa State University)
A screenshot of the economic productivity of Iowa farmland in 2015 based off of research by agronomists at Iowa State University. (Iowa Environmental Mesonet)
Nick Fetty | January 27, 2016

A team of researchers at Iowa State University recently published a study which found that “significant portions of Iowa farmland consistently produce yields that fall short of the cost of the inputs required to grow crops.”

The study was a collaboration between agronomists at ISU and AgSolver, an Ames-based agricultural services company. Together the researchers examined data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as data from ISU’s annual Farmland Value Survey. The data is available to the public through an interactive map on the Iowa Environomental Mesonet.

The research team estimated that 2.5 million hectares of Iowa farmland lost $250 or more per hectare last year. Additionally, roughly 6.2 million acres (approximately 27 percent of all Iowa farmland devoted to row crops) are expected to have lost $100 or more per acre.

Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy at ISU and co-author of the study, said she hopes the research will provide farmers with alternative ways for re-purposing unproductive land. One alternative she suggested is to plant perennial grasses which can improve soil health, reduce erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and even serve as a renewable source of energy when harvested. Heaton is currently working with officials at the University of Iowa on the Biomass Fuel Project which uses perennial grasses such as miscanthus to power the UI campus.

The article was published earlier this month in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters.

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