Summer Research Minigrant Program

2020 - Becker, Cartoni, Crider, Geygan, Hayden, Keeve, Massman, Rice

Ashley Becker’s project aimed to gain a better understanding of farmer grazing practices and the resulting soil composition.

In Ryan Geygan’s summer project, several mapping techniques were utilized to create maps of the Corn Belt, which will lend to future research on cover cropping.

In tandem with the Naked Barley Project, Chris Massman, focused on organic growing conditions for the health beneficial, but normally conventionally grown grain, naked barley.

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Stefania Cartoni’s work tested the potential benefits of Kernza, an increasingly popular intermediate wheatgrass, in Fall Rivers, WI.

Daniel Hayden, in collaboration with Oneida agricultural co-op, Ohelaku, and Dan Cornelius, assessed crop productivity and plant-microbe interactions through a diverse set of cropping systems.

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Through interviews and participatory work, Margaux Crider explored the ways in which religion links to agricultural and environmentalist efforts.

Rooted in food justice and environmental education, Christian Keeve, brought awareness to Black-led agricultural and culinary initiatives through his project.

Anika Rice strived to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on farming operations in Rabinal, Guatemala.


How do farmer perspectives influence soil carbon quantity and quality under gradients of grazing intensity, frequency, and grassland age?
Student Researcher:
Ashley Becker, Nelson Institute
Faculty Advisor: Randy Jackson, Agronomy

Carbon storage is a key function of soils, which can be a significant part of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Adjusting the management of agricultural land, including pastures, is necessary for achieving increases in soil carbon, but many factors influence whether a grassland is an atmospheric net carbon source or sink. This project investigates changes in soil carbon on multiple Wisconsin grazing farms in different settings and under different grazing management practices. The goal of this research is to identify which management decisions and environmental variables have the greatest influence on soil carbon changes.

Spring grazing on kernza intermediate wheatgrass and clover for grain and forage production
Student Researcher:
Stefania Cartoni, Agroecology
Faculty Advisor: Valentin Picasso, Agronomy

Intermediate wheatgrass is a perennial, cool season grass typically grown for forage. Kernza is the trade name for the grain produced by the improved strain of intermediate wheatgrass. This on-farm project seeks to determine whether grazing an intermediate wheatgrass and red clover pasture in spring has a detrimental effect on forage production, weed pressure or grain yield. The results will help researchers better understand the potential use of intermediate wheatgrass as a dual-purpose forage and grain crop.

Sister to Sister: An Agroecological Approach to Women, Farming, and Faith
Student Researcher:
Margaux Crider, Agroecology
Faculty Advisor: Mike Bell, Community & Environmental Sociology

Women’s voices are often absent in discussions about religious history and the agricultural ethos of the United States. This project uses an agroecological approach to explore how faith, gender and place inform relationships and guide decision making at the Catholic Dominican community at Sinsinawa Mound. The community is committed to several land stewardship practices at the farm, which is the basis for a case study that can further an understanding of the connections between faith and ecology.

Patterns and Drivers of Cover Cropping in Conventional Corn/Soy Rotations of the Upper Midwest (Corn Belt)
Student Researcher:
Ryan Geygan, Nelson Institute
Faculty Advisor: Mutlu Ozdogan, Forest & Wildlife Ecology/Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies 

Growing cover crops in corn/soy rotations can provide soil health benefits, but data is lacking on where they are being grown. This project seeks to create a repeatable process for mapping cover cropping in the Upper Midwest using historical satellite imagery. In addition to tracking adoption of cover cropping over time, the project seeks to develop an understanding of farmer motivations for growing cover crops.

Plant-microbial Feedbacks in Intercropped Oneida White Corn
Student Researcher:
Daniel Hayden, Plant Pathology
Faculty Advisor: Erin Silva/Rick Lankau, Plant Pathology

Traditional agricultural practices of the Oneida people replicate natural plant systems with diverse cropping systems, including growing corn with beans and squash. The overarching theme of this project was to simulate diverse cropping systems in order to see the interactions between the microbial communities in the soil and the crops themselves. Hayden worked with the Oneida agricultural co-op Ohelaku in investigating how plant diversity in a polyculture including Oneida white corn affects soil microbial diversity. He tested whether plant diversity effects on corn productivity are explained by microbial or nutrient dynamics.

Brought, Bred, Co-opted: Finding Roots in Madison’s Black Soil
Student Researcher:
Christian Keeve, Geography
Faculty Advisor: Monica White, Community & Environmental Sociology 

Ancestral foods and heirloom seeds provide a way to find a sense of place and connection to the land while bolstering economic, agricultural and community resilience. The goal of this project is to grow and save the seeds of Black diasporic crops while boosting ongoing work around agricultural experimentation, environmental education and food justice. Evaluating how well crops from West Africa and those grown by Black Americans in the U.S. South and Mid-Atlantic regions adapt to the Madison area and saving seeds furthers food sovereignty efforts while making connections with the larger community.

Naked Barley Breeding Forum
Student Researcher:
Chris Massman, Plant Breeding and Genetics
Faculty Advisor: Lucia Gutierrez, Agronomy

In contrast to other grain types on the market, naked barley is proving to be an efficient and health-beneficial grain option. Though US production of naked barley has taken place in conventional environments, programs like the Naked Barley Project are dedicated to cultivating breeds of the grain that are suited for organic growing conditions. Barley is a versatile crop, but has a hull that adheres tightly to the grain. However, hull-less lines are being developed, making processing easier and allowing the whole grain to be preserved. Researchers are evaluating lines of this ‘naked barley’ that are adapted for organic systems in the Upper Midwest. The purpose of this project is to fully engage growers and barley end users with the naked barley breeding project at UW-Madison in order to understand their questions about growing and marketing this crop. This feedback is critical as it helps the researchers align naked barley breeding goals with the needs of farmers and end users.

The Role of Women’s Knowledge in Advancing Guatemala’s Agroecological Practices
Student Researcher:
Anika Rice, Geography
Faculty Advisor: Lisa Naughton, Geography

In Guatemala, increasingly regional patterns of drought linked to climate change and volatile political economic shifts that affect markets for cash crops are threats to farmer livelihoods. In response, grassroots groups are turning to agroecology to reclaim their agricultural traditions and autonomy. The purpose of this project is to understand how farmers in Guatemala have responded and adapted to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including local markets, access to inputs, and mobility restrictions. Sharing the experiences of those with alternative marketing strategies and resilient farming systems that have worked well can provide models for others.