Land Use

Note/disclaimer: This webpage is for instructional purposes only and the scenario described below is fictional.

This page was developed as a hypothetical report investigating the feasibility of converting conventional, agronomic land used for row crop rotations into a perennial forage or grazing system. 

UW-Madison Cropping Systems Group Members:
   Jarret Miles-Kroening, Horticulture Major.
   Abdullah Hussaini, Agribusiness Mngmt. Major. 



Scenario | Abstract | Introduction | Methods | Results | New Section | Limitations | Conclusions | Citations | Acknowledgements | About the Authors | About the Authors2 |  


The Farm Bureau is working with a group of scientific researchers to address the over growing concerns of the current intensive agricultural practices. The researchers are expected to report findings of the current systems in comparison to perennial systems. These findings should result from previous scientific data conducted by governmental public institutions including United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), University sponsored research or any readily available public records. The reports should include all scientific findings detailing nitrate percolation, soil erosion, specific scientific findings of differences between traditional and perennial systems. Other important societal factors such as economic impact and current legislation should also be included in findings. The purpose of this report is to answer if it is possible to switch to a more perennial growing system and how the current social and economic systems may be of benefit or hinder its growth. 


In the past century, the growth of technology in agriculture has allowed for a meteoric increase in yield, particularly of grains and commodity crops such as potato and soy. This has been in large part due to the development of chemical pesticides and importantly, fertilizers. Nitrate fertilizers particularly have allowed crops such as potato to dominate in the poorly fertile central sands of Wisconsin, an area prone to leaching of nutrients into groundwater, and which has led to a myriad of public health issues such as heart issues and infant methemoglobinemia. Annual cropping systems that rely on continual fortification of soil nutrients with synthetic fertilizers have lead to an overconsumption of nutrients and a disruption of field health, we believe that this can be mitigated by less intensive cropping systems that both reduce demand for synthetic fertilizers and increase nutrient recovery and storage in the soil through organic matter. There are a number of socioeconomic barriers to a shift away from traditional 2-year rotations to perennial or forage based systems, including existing regulatory measures and subsidies that heavily favor grains such as corn. Increasing perennial crops may lead to increased off-season production, as there will be no fallow period, additionally increased demand for grass fed and “sustainable” meat will drive production of livestock on these perennial and grass based systems. Current government subsidies do not allow for the easy transition to perennial systems, however the government backed grain industry is not sustainable economically, environmentally, nor socially. Undue burdens are being put on farmers to produce high quantities of grain using newer, more expensive technologies and increasing amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Perennialization, or conversion of fields from largely annually planted row crops to perennial forage or mainly perennial rotations, may offer a solution to mitigate the constant push for higher yield at the expense of the farmer, and the surrounding environment. 


Wisconsin is foundationally an agricultural state, as such land use can generally be categorized into agricultural, natural, and urban uses. Within agricultural uses, common non-animal crops such as cranberries, potatoes, soy, corn, and wheat dominate our fields, where all of these crops, with the exception of cranberries, are grown as annuals in usual 2-3 year rotations. Part of the process of rotational crops is an annual replanting, which may result in tillage of the land, and fertilization to replenish the nutrients removed by harvest and lost through soil processes. In addition to cropland, there is also a large portion of land dedicated to hay/forage and pasture for livestock, both dairy and beef, which tend to be 2-1-1 year rotations or perennial grass crops which require less intensive management than row crops. Natural lands such as forests, prairies, and wetlands, as well as urban areas, are not included in the scope of this paper. 

Nitrate and Phosphorus Pollution in the Sands

A major problem with the advent of modern agriculture is pollution of nutrients and agrochemicals into the surface and groundwater supplies near agricultural fields. This has been an especially prevalent problem in central Wisconsin, where the soils are notably sandy (colloquially known as the “central sands”). Sandy soils are very loose, which make them uniquely suited for potato production as the loose soil allows for easy hilling and harvesting without intensive cleaning and bruising of the tubers. Of course, sandy soils also pose the problem of having both poor water holding capacities and poor nutrient holding capacity due to the large particle size of sand relative to silts or clays. (Nowatzki and Seelig, 2017) Potatoes in particular require vast amounts of nitrogen and adequate water during peak growth and tuber bulking stages, which leads to a high likelihood of nitrate leaching into the groundwater via deep percolation. (UW Extension, 2010)


High nitrates in drinking water are particularly troublesome for the health of rural populations that rely on wells and aquifers for water, and which disproportionately experience the effects of nitrate percolation. Nitrates in drinking water can lead to a myriad of health impacts, such as birth defects, poor heart health and blood pressure, and perhaps most prominently, blue baby syndrome or methemoglobinemia.(Nowatzki and Seelig, 2017) These effects are often compounded by poor access to healthcare in rural areas and increased exposure through agricultural land. 

Ways to reduce nitrates and phosphates, hypotheses. 

Reducing fertilizer inputs on agricultural land is one way to reduce the amount of excess fertilizer running off or percolating by simply reducing the amount of excess nutrients available to leave the soil. Additionally, with a perennial crop such as grass, there exists no reason to till the soil or leave fields fallow year to year, which can increase the structure of soil and reduce erosion from high volume precipitation. Even using methods such as a grazing rotation where \ perennial forages are included for several years in the rotation in conjunction with potatoes has the potential to offset the enormous potential for nitrate pollution. (Crews et al., 2018) Leguminous forage additionally has the advantage of providing supplemental soil nitrogen, lending a reduction in the amount of synthetic N required and reducing the out-of-pocket cost for the farmer in the long term. (Mattia et al., 2018)  Specifically, we believe that using less intensive cropping methods to reduce chemical fertilizer inputs annually will reduce percolated nitrates and mitigate surface runoff of soil particulates and phosphorus containing solutions into waterways. In tandem we will investigate the effects of increased personalization on field health, and if the reduction of inputs will still result in sufficient sources of feed for potential livestock.

Policies and the Economic condition

Wisconsin and several other Midwest states have always been agricultural driven economies, but we have come a long way from the typical 40 acre homestead which was prevalent throughout these states. Specialization has often been the centerpiece for economic success that has led to several policies and legislation being enacted through lobbying efforts and has become well intertwined within our farming industry. By the use of advanced technology and efficiency farms have found ways to increase yields, and therefore overall market prices for goods have decreased, an uphill battle if you will for breaking the cycle of intensive cash grain agriculture. It is only recently that we have started to focus on methods different from only seeking profit, in a fast changing culture there is a need for ‘sustainability’, the fact that our environment and society have a great impact from what we grow on our soil. Several row crop and dairy farmers themselves have started to bring forth changes in their own operations, but in order to have a significant impact we must establish new policies which encourage sustainable practices. Although the USDA has several initiatives to restore environmentally sensitive areas such as programs through the national resource conservation service, the budget and devotion to these projects often falls short. On the contrary, governmental encouragement and subsidies for crop production are quite strong in both a legal and economical manner. 

Methodology and Analyses 

Our arguments will be supported by both qualitative analysis of data presented in other studies and through correspondence with farmers and researchers, and through quantitative analysis of data obtained from the USDA database regarding land use in Wisconsin.  This report serves as a compilation of existing data in a form easily accessible and digestible by farmers in Wisconsin. For studies, relevant data reports were reported via figures and our analysis of the numbers and conclusions given in the paper are included. In addition, farmers in central Wisconsin and professors were interviewed to understand the issues at hand from a multifaceted perspective. Interviews were conducted via email correspondence or over the phone and consist of questions aimed at gaining the interviewee’s perspective and knowledge on land use with respect to perennialization. 

Previous studies data will be compiled through charts and figures, the point of our report will be to summarize and persuade a change in cropping methods through inference into existing data, not to create new data. Our interviews were designed to gather as much information from the farmers in as unbiased a state as possible, as such only the first few interview questions were scripted and were as open ended as possible, such as “How would you describe the type of crop and rotational method used by your dairy farm to feed livestock?” of which we would use the answer, “Pasture and grass forage supplemented with grain during milking,” to ask a the next question. This allowed the interview to flow as a conversation and allowed us to avoid bias which may interfere with accurate reporting. 

For analysis of qualitative data such as the interview, we approached with an open but directional eye. Anecdotes, images, and other qualitative sources were parsed to determine the degree of information relevant to this case to be included in determining the effectiveness of the strategy being discussed. Additionally, potential drawbacks that arise in situ were particularly clear with anecdotal qualitative evidence, this has been of particular importance to the economic and social pillars of our investigation. Things such as grain supplementation to round out the diets of grass-fed cows and provide a milking incentive were not included in any of the academic papers investigated and is a key detail that provides insight to practical grass grazing methods. Conversely, we decided to look at quantitative study data as a whole picture, seeing that the data was relevant to this project. Data came mostly from articles discussing relevant crop, soil, and cultural practices studied in Wisconsin or on similar soils to Wisconsin. Where we could not find studies looking directly at Wisconsin cropping systems, we would accept data from broader studies if they provided information on the types of soil and crop rotations, specifically looking for sandy, sandy loam, and occasionally silt loam soils with mid-range organic matter contents.


Plant biomass per species(Crews, T., Carton, W., & Olsson, L.)


E_2.png(Brittenham, B. A. pg 45)


E_3.png(Mattia, C. M., Davis, A., & Sarah, T. L.)


Figures: Top- Increased diversity leads to an increase of plant productivity in perennial fields due to competition which reduces the load of soil pathogens. Fields with high diversity may require less pesticide and fungicide application as the pressure of disease cannot propagate as well through the polyculture as well. Middle- The groundwater at the end of shallow sloped fields increases significantly under row cropping with no protection measures when compared to even a 10% perennial cover at the foot of the hill, or in contour strips following the slope. Such contour strips are also used to protect from erosion of soil during high precipitation events, and in this instance provide a double edged sword for resource recovery. Bottom- The value of ecosystem services as rated by the general population. It is notable that while soil is generally agreed to provide important ecosystem services, the public opinion of plant biodiversity and wildlife habitat remains that they are not as important as services. We would argue that biodiversity is indeed key to providing an ecologically sustainable environment. 

Practicality of Perennial Systems

It is possible to raise livestock on grass with minimal grain supplementation, as reported by central Wisconsin farmer Ronald Riehle, who has fed his small dairy herd on grass pasture or haylage with grain supplements during milking for at least the last twenty years, with no tillage or replanting of his grass fields during that time. He cultivates a mixture of Timothy, Reed Canary, and Kentucky Bluegrass to achieve a mixture which can respond adequately to weather conditions throughout the season. Soil is tested every 3-5 years to attain available nitrogen and potassium levels, and supplementation with Ammonium and Potassium nitrates is made to return soil to healthy levels of nutrients. Cows are kept in rotating pasture paddocks during the summer months, with heifers being pastured in a larger, undivided field. Ron does supplement the milking and non milking cows with a fortified grain feed to keep micronutrient levels in check, and to provide a milking incentive. 

Through the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial, among other things, it has been discovered that perennial crops increase stored C and N in the soil organic matter, which acts as a ballast for N nutrition. Additionally, this increase of soil organic matter leads to increased soil aggregates, which help maintain soil structure and resist erosion by precipitation events. Economically this trial demonstrated that government subsidies can indeed make organic farming practices, which omit the use of synthetic fertilizers and other potential pollutants, however without subsidies the cost:yield becomes too much for an economically sustainable system. The ability of perennial systems to efficiently capture and use nutrients was also demonstrated in this study. 

Land Use and Nitrates

Introduction of Haber Bosch Nitrogen into agriculture has allowed the yields to skyrocket as nitrogen transitions away from being a limiting nutrient. This has been integral to keeping up with growing demand for crops such as corn and potatoes, the latter of which are a major crop and major user of synthetic nitrogen in the central sands of Wisconsin. Potato crops are grown on three year rotations, often as grain under planted with forage, potatoes, and sometimes soy.  Potato crops have the requirement of high nitrogen fertilization rates (190-235 kg/ha, often split 2:1 over two application dates during hilling). Potatoes are not the only crop subject to high nitrogen usage however, in sandy soils all irrigated crops, with the exception of soybean, are recommended to be fertilized at much higher rates than they would be in loam or silty soils.(Laboski and Peters, 2012 Potatoes on a rotation will at some point require the tillage of forage from the previous growing season into the field, normally either the fall before planting of potatoes or soy. This fall disturbance of the soil of plowing in the forage causes increased erosion of soil particulates and increased percolation of dissolved nitrates into groundwater6. It has been found that leaving the forage on the field over winter, and killing and plowing it in the spring may mitigate this effect of increased nitrogen released. This is a simple example of a minor procedural change that can have larger impacts, and demonstrates the effectiveness of cover crops as “capacitors” for soil nutrients. 


Benefits of Perennialization

Runoff from agricultural fields that has drained through the soil, both deeply and over the surface, has increased concentrations of nutrients such as Nitrates and phosphates, which are normally severely limited in aquatic and marine ecosystems. Surface runoff from fallow fields also frequently contains soil particles, and indeed surface erosion of cultivated fields in the United States contributes to a loss of 6-7 Mg/ha per year or more, compared to a native grassland which contributed less than 2 Mg/ha annually. (Nearing et al., 2017) Given that perennial cropping methods are often very similar in annual cover to a grassland, especially when planted with a perennial grass such as timothy, we estimate perennial fields to reduce soil surface erosion by upwards of 4 Mg/ha annually. Fields near waterways, drainage ditches, and cricks are especially problematic when it comes to contributions of runoff to aquatic pollution, as there is nothing standing between field and water. Riparian strips, or zones of vegetation between the field and waterway, are well known mitigators of this runoff and can even reduce the impact of nitrates in groundwater as the groundwater flows towards the waterways. It has been found that riparian strips consisting of simple perennial grassland are significantly effective at reducing phosphorus runoff when planted in the 25 feet adjacent to ditches, cricks, and rivers. (Jackson et al., 2013) This is an obvious reduction of tillable field, but the grass may still be harvested as hay for feed. 

A lot of the cause of runoff from agricultural fields is when the soil is barren and able to be degraded by rain or wind, or when manure is spread over top of barren or snow-covered fields before a precipitation event. Rain hitting the surface of the soil causes particles to detach, which can be mitigated by either increased soil aggregate stability or vegetative cover. Perennial systems have the advantage of increasing soil aggregate stability, while also having constant vegetative cover. This benefit extends below ground as well, as the constant presence of plant roots holds soil together and increases porosity through organic matter degradation. Long term increases in soil organic matter is key to a lasting environmental sustainability within farm fields, the ability of organic material to store nutrients such as N, P, and sulfur (S) is well documented. Indeed, soil reserves of S were nearly exclusively from decaying organic material and have been decreasing recently due to a lack of replenishment. 

Growing concerns over rapidly changing climates has also caused strife with both planting crops and harvesting crops such as corn and soy, which have very narrow and specific conditions which allow for planting. Perennial crops have the benefit of not requiring an annual planting, and offer a source of fodder during years of low grain yield. This could offer some degree of insurance to farmers who worry about pulling in grain crops under wet, late, or cold springs where planting times are severely pushed back. 

Socio-economic impacts 

Corn, soybean and potatoes are some of the largest crop commodities that Wisconsin produces. The vast majority of these crops are grown on massive farms that are well equipped to systematically produce large amounts of yields for shipping across the world. The overabundance of a small amount of crops has allowed for prices of these commodities to significantly decrease. In order to combat lower prices farmers look for ways to either cut their costs or increase yields. One of the ways this can be done is by the use of fertilizers. But the use of fertilizers and the location of storing these chemicals have ill effects on the environment. Several household groundwater wells in Wisconsin have been found to have a toxic amount of nitrate levels and pollutants. This is due to runoff into nearby waterways and through pollutant percolation into groundwater. This drawback of fertilizer use doesn’t only affect the local environments, George Kraft has served as a professor at U.W. Stevens Point and points out that “the costs of pollution are externalized”(Mentzer, 2019), hinting to the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico that are a result of runoff from farming practices of traditional cropping systems of the Midwest. With the majority of grass perennials fertilization is not required and also reduces significant amounts of soil erosion. 


Societal Benefits of perrennialization

Commodities are known for their price volatility, diversifying crop species allows farmers to have a safety net for when any particular market price is low. Decreasing the intensity of current farming methods will benefit the local citizens of rural communities. Through reduced runoff and decreased percolated nitrate levels in well water the amount of toxic chemicals present in water will become limited in number. With local products such as local grass-fed meats available to the market, farmers will become more willing to adapt new methods to satisfy customers. These methods which are more environmentally friendly may help farmers and consumers develop means to negotiate with the help of governmental organizations such as the CSAs and local cooperatives. 

The long term benefits from perennializing 

It would be naive to say a full transition from traditional methods to perennialization is likely to occur. Although if this is done on any kind of scale the benefits are quite substantial, the most important being soil health, which allows farmers to continue growing higher yields for a longer amount of time rather than robbing nutrients or needing to fertilize. This will allow farmers to have less inputs in the future trying to make up for their current practices. Amount of carbon sequestration through perennial systems is substantially more than the current row crop operations (Brittenham, 2017). Perennial crops keep the ground covered year round unlike crop rotations that have a period of bare soil. The organic matter that covers soil significantly reduces the amount of soil erosion seen in traditional methods. Holding soil in place is crucial for long term use for productive land. In pasture systems, manure spread by the animals serves as fertilizer for the soil without unnecessary synthetic fertilizers. 

Current policies that promote traditional methods 

It isn’t just higher yields and increased environmental impacts that allows row crops to keep in business. Rather the amount of influence the government plays is crucial for success in traditional agriculture. In the years 2019 and 2020 alone USDA will have given out $28 billion worth of subsidies to farmers (Charles, 2019). Although the farming industry has been receiving subsidies for a long time the current Trump administration has promoted it even further. Seen below within the past two years there has been a sharp increase in the amount of payments by the government. This increase has been due to spending cuts of $5 billion in the SNAP program that provides nutritional assistance to lower income families (Charles, 2019). 


Demand for animal products continues to grow in market share of the economy, which is the primary reason for growing grain. 

The majority of grains that are grown as row crops are ended up in livestock feeds. Markets across the globe are also affecting the demand for American products such as beef and pork. The USDA projects that all three poultry, beef and pork products are rapidly increasing in domestic consumption and exports. Feed costs have decreased significantly over the past several years and are expected to have a minimal increase in the future. All of these criteria allow the continued use of traditional cropping systems and have gained traction by the increased efficiencies and governmental support. Although there are more people expected to be consuming animal products more readily, the demand for locally produced foods is also in an upward trend at the domestic level.

Growing demand for Grass-Fed

One of the benefits to the higher domestic demand for locally produced grass fed meat is not only that it allows for combating row crops, but also develops motivation for introduction of perennial grasses. The majority of current domestic access to grass fed beef specifically is from nations such as Australia and New Zealand. These nations do not have access to significantly cheap grains and are well suited for pasture systems. The ongoing grass-fed movements are more heavily focused on developing marketing strategies for local farmers and customers want to know more of where their food comes from. By creating domestic producers who can target this market, the current void for locally grown grass fed will be filled. 

Barriers to transitioning into perennials

Current market conditions 

Farmers have an ease of access to sell grain. Local elevators, and grain mills are constantly buying and selling grain to the larger market and are located nearby several farming operations. Since grain has been well situated in the agricultural industry changing perspective towards a different operation will be difficult for several farmers. Although there are several outlets to market beef cattle and alfalfa through auction yards, creating markets for products such as grass-fed beef might be difficult. In order to combat the current market make-up governmental action needs to be taken for creating marketing strategies. There are several opportunities that are available to farmers for initiating different marketing techniques. CSA’s and farmers markets allow for direct marketing to consumers but they are located in urban areas which are far from where production occurs. The effort for establishing cooperative work or options to develop means for selling products is still needed for several operations. The sheer size of the grain industry has made it convenient for farmers to continue farming row crops and will continue to serve as a threat to farmers in the transitioning stages.

Short term profits

Farmers who have developed systems for producing one particular crop may have difficulties in growing crops new to their past operation. These transitions could reduce profits in the short run, For instance the ease of access and ability to sell grain to the local elevator guarantees farmers payment. The use of state led extension services might be crucially necessary in developing markets with consumers for their new crops. But because of the ongoing shortage of grass-fed operations these kinds of problems will easily be smoothed out over a period of time. However it is necessary to address the financial stress that the transition may have on farmers.

Lobbying techniques keep row cropping a viable option for most farmers.

Subsidies allow farmers to get money regardless of the condition or grade of their crops. For example a farmer in Iowa had damages to his soybeans because of intense flooding but due to the current legislation, he received payment from the federal subsidized crop insurance to compensate his damages (Charles, 2019). Several initiatives have formed that have allowed grains such as corn to become intertwined with several processed foods at grocery stores. This is one of the reasons for the attraction towards keeping traditional methods in agriculture. The few that are beginning to venture into perennial operations are much smaller in size who are easily adaptable. This is quite concerning since the larger operations who contribute heavily into pollutants and soil erosion are not willing to change because of the economic and legal ease they have grasped within their current traditional operations. 

Some of the current techniques of lobbying include manipulation of data, specifically data that is included in the dietary guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are meant to inform citizens to make healthy choices that affect not only consumer preference, but the environment that surrounds them. The guidelines are developed by the USDA and the Health and Human Services. Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health mentions the primary stakeholders in the USDA are food producers and manufacturers (Heid, 2016). These individuals have taken on the task to create a false narrative towards what customers should consume. An article by Time magazine showcases exactly this, it states that several experts do not believe the scientific emphasis the advisory committee places is relayed in the final guidelines presented to the public (Heid, 2016). This divide between the committee and the USDA is influenced heavily by lobbying, which mostly consists of large corporations who are able to afford to do so. This not only affects the well being of people, but distracts current farmers from staying in their current intensive operations. 


This study, while a comprehensive analysis of nitrate reducing tactics practically available for farmers in Wisconsin, is limited in certain assumptions made. First, this study did not look at perennial grains as a possible solution for farmers who cannot economically sustain themselves through sale or use of land as direct pasture or forage for livestock. Many farmers are not capable of switching from cash grains to livestock production and therefore the forage perennial rotation is not feasible for them. Perennial grain crops do exist and are being developed for midwest growing, and this is certainly an area which deserves more attention in the future. Additionally, we do not propose any direct solutions to reducing synthetic fertilizer application rates in farmers who grow potatoes in rotation aside from changing tillage times and modifying non-potato crops into perennials. The fact of the matter remains that methods such as deficit irrigation and new varieties are still being tested, and as of now there is no substitution for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to attain industry standard yields. Economic incentives to farmers are often key for grain production and currently there exists little infrastructure to incentivize ecologically conservative practices. While we realize this fact and propose several mitigation efforts such as credits for riparian zones, we do not attempt to cover the complex nature of state and federal law. Certainly this is an area which will be investigated moving forward, and we would hope to work with legislature and the Farm Bureau to navigate the best path to increasing sustainability in Wisconsin farm fields.    


We as scientific researchers believe the current system which has been promoted and developed for increased yields at the expense of biodiversity is unsustainable and has caused the environmental and societal standards to depreciate substantially. We have come a long way since the birth of the Haber-Bosch process, it served a beneficial resource when it was first discovered and continues to aid in feeding the growing populations worldwide, however luxury usage of synthetic nitrogen's and phosphate fertilizers in commercial agriculture has lead to the detriment of ground and surface water throughout the state of Wisconsin. The ongoing efforts from large scale food producers have influenced legislation and reaped economic benefit that should have been diverted towards sustainable practiced organizations long ago. With the continued use of intensive agriculture we have seen higher nitrate levels in groundwater, which contributes to a growing health care dilemma in rural communities, which rely on the income from polluting practices and have little infrastructure to placate issues such as elevated blood pressure and blue baby syndrome. Fertilizer which percolates and escapes field surfaces as runoff has the potential to eutrophy waterways, however many of the issues that allow for large quantities of mineral nutrients to leave fields can be dealt with in the cultural practices of agriculture. Perennial crops, which in contrast to common annual crops such as corn, potato, and soy, allow vegetation to be present year round. This reduces the impacts of precipitation during periods which the fields lay fallow, reducing runoff and erosion; these perennial crops often require significantly less or no synthetic fertilizer inputs, as is the case with leguminous forages such as alfalfa. These perennial cropping methods are not currently easy to transition to, our economy and agricultural traditions are moving rapidly in the direction of annual row grain crops, causing a vicious cycle of upgrading equipment, seed, pesticide, fertilizer, equipment, seed, ... etc. In order to achieve this goal we will need to develop initiatives or promote existing policy within the NRCS. There is an existing demand for local products and perennial agriculture allows farmers to incorporate a diversity that can introduce a local product. Grass fed local products are a developing industry that has the potential of combating large interest groups at the national level. It is in the best interest of this nation to ease pressure from current farmers who continue with intensive methods. We as a nation must implement strategies which have scientific basis and attain long term sustainability through the promising effects of perrenialization on reducing the negative economic and environmental burdens of traditional row cropping on rural Wisconsin.


  1. Brittenham, B. A. (2017). Effect of converting row crop to prairie on nutrient concentration in shallow groundwater and soil properties. Retrieved March 4, 2020, from

    1. This research study focused on analyzing the effects native prairie grasses have in row crop production in the landscape of Iowa. With the addition of native prairie contour strips a correlation of reduced nutrient export from the land was seen. The argument the author tries to convey is that by allowing native prairie grass with the existing row crops, there will be an opportunity to bring back soil conditions to levels prior to row crop introduction. The study showed reduced levels of nitrate nitrogen in shallow groundwater when prairie grasses are present. 

  2. Crews, T., Carton, W., & Olsson, L. (2018). Is the future of agriculture perennial? Imperatives and opportunities to reinvent agriculture by shifting from annual monocultures to perennial polycultures. Global Sustainability, 1, E11. doi:10.1017/sus.2018.11

    1. This article explains all of the three pillars of sustainability in the current use of monoculture. Throughout modernization we have developed great success in increased crop yields and much more efficient systems. However, this kind of efficiency has been a major disadvantage to our environment. It has caused soil erosion, contamination, loss of organic carbon, and increased use of agrochemicals. In contrast, the use of perennial systems will help encourage sustainability which will not only help our environment but also create opportunities in rural communities. 

  3. Cates AM, Ruark MD, Hedtcke JL, Posner JL (2016) Long-term tillage, rotation and perennialization effects on particulater and aggregate soil organic matterSoil and Tillage Research155, 371–380.

    1. This article gives insight into how different cropping mechanisms affect soil particulate matter, agricaggaes, and soil organic matter. Soil water stable aggregates have been shown to increase with organic matter content, and reduce soil susceptibility to severe erosion and compaction. Perennial crops in rotation appears to increase soil organic and particulate matter, especially with regard to soil C and N. Additionally, pastures were found to contain significantly more particulate organic matter C and N. 

  4. Charles, D. (2019, December 31). Farmers Got Billions From Taxpayers In 2019, And Hardly Anyone Objected. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from

  5. This article lays out what kinds of current policies are in place for the farming industry. It explains how billions of dollars are spent by average Americans to keep intensive farming systems in business. The kind of legislation in place allows bigger farms to profit much more than the smaller operations. This does not only serve as an economic benefit to bigger farms but as a risk to the environment and social well being of the smaller farmers. 

  1. Chavas, J., Posner, J. L., & Hedtcke, J. L. (2009). Organic and conventional production systems in the Wisconsin integrated cropping systems trial: II. economic and risk analysis 1993–2006. Agronomy Journal, 101(2), 288-295. doi:

    1. This article details some of the economic impacts of different cropping methods, specifically between three forage systems and three cash-grain systems. It was found that when govt’ subsidies were applied, organic systems became significantly more profitable than no-till or monocropping in both forage systems and in cash-grain systems. Evaluating the economic risk of switching from a cash-grain type cropping system to a forage system will be an important factor in our paper.

  2. Heid, M. (2016, January 8). Food Industry Lobbying and U.S. 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from

  1. This article explains the influence food producers and manufacturers have in legislation in the national government. The continued use of lobbying efforts have developed ways for large corporations or industrial agriculture to create policies which are much more favorable towards them. This could be done with human perception manipulation while being a strong component of a governance. 

  1. Jiang, Y., Jamieson, T., Nyiraneza, J., Somers, G., Thompson, B., Murray, B., . . . Geng, X. (2015). Effects of fall vs. spring plowing forages on nitrate leaching losses to groundwater. Ground Water Monitoring and Remediation, 35(1), 43-54. doi:

    1. This study looked at the effects of changing tillage practices from fall to spring in potato crop rotations on soil and leachate NO3-. It was found that making the switch did reduce drain tile nitrates, and groundwater nitrates leaching from potato fields. Reducing leachates in the drainwater can further reduce the nitrate levels in groundwater, and reduces pressure on buffer zones to remove nitrates.

  2. Mattia, C. M., Davis, A., & Sarah, T. L. (2018). Identifying barriers and motivators for adoption of multifunctional perennial cropping systems by landowners in the upper sangamon river watershed, illinois. Agroforestry Systems, 92(5), 1155-1169. doi:

    1. This study offers a glimpse of farmer demographics and how they relate to adoption of multifunctional perennial cropping systems, one type of no-till cropping system. This will be useful when looking at who our stakeholders are and some of the socio-economic indicators as to how our argument will affect them. 

  3. Mayer, A. (2016, April 4). Can Midwest Farmers Fight Monoculture And Grow New Crops? Retrieved March 4, 2020, from

    1. This article showcases different views farmers have on their current operations and land use in general. The dependency farmers have on other divisions within the agribusiness system is how they determine what they should plant. Farmers who would like to move to a much more sustainable system have several obstacles to deal with. But this article helps to change the perspective by analyzing efforts made by farmers to develop perennial crops. 

  4. Mentzer, R. (2019, July 26). Scientists Tell Lawmakers Agriculture Practices Must Change To. Retrieved March 4, 2020, from

    1. This article gives a brief but concise introduction to how the increased use of fertilizer use on farms contributes to groundwater contamination in the state of Wisconsin. The current legislation and policies that encompass Wisconsin agriculture help farmers stay with row crops which have harmful effects on groundwater. Findings in private wells of three counties in the southern part of the state had 42% higher levels of bacteria or nitrate. However, the effects of such agricultural use have not only contributed to the local landscape, negative impacts can be seen many miles away in the dead zones of the Gulf of Mexico. 

  5. Nowatzki, J. & Seelig, S. (2017, June). Working to Avoid Nitrogen Contamination — Publications. Retrieved March 4, 2020, from

    1. This article takes on several topics encompassing nitrogen contamination from farm activities. Land use arguments are made by establishing locations for structures such as septic systems and other high impact structures. However, more importantly, the type of cropping systems and its impacts are related to the type of land. Tillage significantly increases the amount of runoff and reduces nutrient density in soils. 

  6. Oneal, M. R., Nearing, M. A., Vining, R. C., Southworth, J., & Pfeifer, R. A. (2005, May 31). Climate change impacts on soil erosion in Midwest United States with changes in crop management. Retrieved March 5, 2020, from

    1. This study looked at farm management techniques in the Midwest while taking into account the impact of climate change. The changes in weather patterns and crop yields will develop innovation in terms of crop varieties. By the use of several simulations we are able to see comparisons between crops such as soybean or maize and wheat. All of which seem to have varying impacts but have significant factors in soil loss and run off. 

  7. U.S. Livestock. (2016, February). Retrieved March 23, 2020, from 

  1. This report gives out several projections for the meat industry. The trends that are have already and will occur throughout 2025. All of these trends are in favor of the current market situation with row crops and lower meat prices but continued support for locally sourced meat and specifically grass fed meat could be a factor that would benefit by perennialization. 



This project would not have been successful without the contributions of the outstanding students in our Food Systems, Sustainability, and Climate Change class.  We would particularly like to acknowledge the wonderful and challenging questions, and the specific knowledge that students with different areas of expertise provided. 

About the Authors


Abdullah Hussaini is a Junior studying Agricultural Business Management with a certificate in Public Policy. He developed his passion for agriculture through his sheep farming operation in High School. This project helps him understand the relationships between policies and interest groups which take advantage of current legislation on land uses. He plans to develop a career path in agribusiness and potentially proceed into agricultural government.


Jarret Miles-Kroening is studying plant science in Horticulture going on his third year of undergraduate study. He entered the field of horticulture through an FFA project, running a small plant nursery for the local alumni and highschool. He is currently working in the fruit crops lab with cranberry nutrition and hardy grape field trials, and hopes to carry on working with fruit growers to streamline production in a research setting.Jarret Miles-Kroening is studying plant science in Horticulture in his third year of undergraduate study. He entered the field of horticulture through an FFA project, running a small plant nursery for the local alumni and highschool. He is currently working in the fruit crops lab with cranberry nutrition and hardy grape field trials, and hopes to carry on working with fruit growers to streamline production. His eventual goal is to find ways to integrate native ecosystems into horticultural production.

Keywords:student project template page   Doc ID:98308
Owner:MaryGrace E.Group:DS 471 Food Production Systems and Sustainability
Created:2020-02-27 19:33 CDTUpdated:2021-06-04 07:31 CDT
Sites:DS 471 Food Production Systems and Sustainability
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