The roles of cereal grains in transitions in theagricultural landscape in Southwest Michigan

Thomas, B., A. Rudy, C. Harris, M. Worosz, S. Kaplan, and M. McCoy

Presented at the All Scientist Meeting (2003-09-12 )

In this project we ask how political economy, culture and biogeography have combined to produce a series of transformations in the roles of cereal grains in the agricultural landscape of southwest Michigan. The environmental and social history of the region has been divided into six time periods. Across these six periods, cereal grains shift from a diversified mixture with an emphasis on wheat for food production, to a specialization in corn and soybeans for animal feed. The heavy emphasis on corn production created very hospitable habitats for corn pests. In the early part of the last century, European corn borer spread through the region, and farmers were encouraged to practice clean cultivation in order to decrease overwintering by the pest. The emphasis on clean cultivation in turn increased rates of soil erosion, so farmers were encouraged to use no-till techniques. As no-till techniques lead to increases in weed pressure, the use of herbicides is increased and contamination of groundwater occurs. Although soybean crops provide some residual nitrogen for successive corn crops, supplemental nitrogen is used extensively, leading to pollution of surface and subsurface waters.

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