Minnesota has 27 million acres of farmland, occupying nearly half the 55.6 million acres in the state. Two highly productive and profitable crops, corn (8.7 million acres planted in Minnesota in 2012) and soybean (7.1 million acres) are the foundation of our agriculture, along with other important production systems such as animal agriculture, small grains, horticultural crops and others. The proposed initiative aims to build on these strengths by adding to the productivity and profitability of our current agriculture.
Most of our current crops are ‘summer-annuals’ that are grown during the summer. By selectively adding winter-annual and perennial crops to our agricultural landscapes to create new crop production systems, we can enhance the prosperity of Minnesota agriculture, support rural communities, and provide major benefits to all Minnesotans. A strong base of evidence indicates that these new production systems will enhance yields of our summer-annual crops, enable production of new commodities, enhance our soils and wildlife, and improve our water resources. All of these benefits are possible because perennial and winter-annual crops are active during a large portion of each year, including many periods in fall, winter and spring when summer crops are absent.
For this reason, perennial and winter-annual crops—working in tandem with summer annuals—can capture solar energy, water and nutrients with very high efficiency. Specifically, these production systems can:
- Diversify economic opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers, through the production of new sources of food, feed, and high-value biomaterials, without interfering with current annual production systems;
- Improve the condition of vital resources including water, land and biodiversity;
- Enable abundant production despite climate variability and new pest and disease pressures;
- Enhance rural committees by creating new industries based on renewable agriculture resources- and employment opportunities; and
- Attract high quality talent to the University of Minnesota to meet the future workforce needs of the agriculture, food, energy and natural resource based industries in Minnesota.
These new production systems, combining summer-annual, winter-annual and perennial crops, use our precious resources of land, water and nutrients more efficiently than our current systems. For this reason, we call these systems high-efficiency agriculture. These high-efficiency systems are arguably the most promising vehicle by which we can rapidly improve the productivity of Minnesota agriculture, and its ability to withstand climate variability such as the drought of 2012. To realize the great potential of these systems, two kinds of research and development are critically needed: genetic improvement of plant materials, and development of new economic opportunities based on these systems. The University of Minnesota has significant strengths and ongoing efforts in both areas, providing the foundation for this initiative.