Agricultural field experiments at the Uof M are traditionally conducted over a two- to three-year period. However, field research that focuses on cropping system productivity and resiliency over a longer time period is also needed.

Long-term studies are important for understanding interactions between plants, animals, and their environment that ultimately lead to improved system productivity and resiliency.

Resilient agricultural systems are ones that can recover quickly from stress due to climate variability, pest pressure, market changes, and so on. Achieving resilient and productive agricultural production systems requires a longer-term approach based on an understanding of complex plant, soil, and microbe interactions that can change over time and place as influenced by management and climate factors.

The University of Minnesota established a Long-Term Agricultural Research Network in 2011 as a novel platform for research and education that emphasizes agricultural production through a unified network approach.

The Minnesota Long-Term Agricultural Research Network is an outcome-based research, outreach and education entity. Our primary focus is to help create agricultural production systems that provide a resilient, nimble and efficient source of food, fiber, health, and biomaterials. However, we also recognize that agricultural production must be practiced in a responsible manner that is consistent with social, economic and environmental desires. Furthermore, we focus on results that are relevant to producers, consumers, policy makers and business sectors.

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The Minnesota Long-Term Agricultural Research Network consists of multiple sites, representing the climatic, hydrologic, and socioeconomic variations across Minnesota. Each site is uniform in design and management and guided by the network’s common research focus.

Having multiple sites over a long period of time allows us to determine how key plant, soil, and microbe relationships that improve yield, production efficiency, and resiliency change across the region and over time. This give us valuable information on how best to manage land in a given region in a short-, mid- and long-term timeframe.

Current network nodes/sites are at University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Centers in south central (Waseca), southwest (Lamberton), and north central (Grand Rapids). other sites are being considered to more fully represent variability across regions and over time.

At each location, six cropping systems form the basis of the LTARN platform. Crop system models range from a two-crop rotation to more complex perennial-based cropping systems. The selection of specific crops to fit each cropping system model was based on local adaptability and prevalence across the LTARN network. Data collection comprises three main categories -- environment, plant and soil that is collected uniformly across all sites.

Current research is exploring the relationship between soil physical/chemical characteristics, microbial communities, soil nutrients, and plant growth and productivity at each site in a way that meets the broader goals of the LTARN. Each research group is part of a fully integrated research and outreach team, seamlessly sharing data and information over time and space. Newly-funded research includes the integration of cover crops in a corn-soybean rotation to explore nutrient use efficiency, cover crop-grain crop competition, and water quality when integrating covers into a corn-soybean rotation.

The entire body of work will be used to address larger questions related to Minnesota agriculture, including global agricultural competitiveness, value-added production of diverse products and services, economic conditions, and provision of a safe, affordable and secure food source all within the context of environmental responsibility.