Enhancing rural resilience through landscape diversity in the Midwest

The Diverse Corn Belt Project (#DCB) is a five-year, multi-disciplinary research project exploring opportunities beyond corn and soybeans and investigating the real-world impacts of diversified farming systems. With more than 30 research partners, we are seeking concrete options for diversification and understanding the agronomic, economic, social, infrastructure and policy changes that could make them viable.


For decades, farmers in America’s Corn Belt have become world-class specialists in producing millions of tons of corn and soybeans. In 2020, they harvested 448 million tons of corn and soybeans on 138 million acres.

But in biological systems—and economic and social ones—resilience is rooted in diversity. #DCB, funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will spend five years exploring options for diversity in the Corn Belt states of Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

The #DCB research team will explore diversity on several levels:

Farm-level diversity, including more options for crop rotations, perennial crops for forage or bioenergy, grazing livestock, agroforestry, and horticultural crops.

Market-level diversity, creating channels for processing and marketing a wider variety of agricultural products and meeting the needs of diverse people all along the value chain.

Landscape-level diversity, a wide-scale proliferation of profitable, resilient, climate-smart farming systems that achieve yield, ecosystem and equity goals.


A more diverse Corn Belt starts with wider options for crop rotations. More choices for crop rotation can help build soil microbial communities, improve carbon sequestration, interrupt the buildup of pests and pathogens in the soil, and broaden possible income streams.


Over the next five years, the #DCB team will be operating in the field—a wide range of fields, in fact.

On-farm: Agronomists, entomologists and soil scientists will be gathering evidence of changes in crops, soils, pest and beneficial insect populations and more on a wide range of farms—from conventional corn/soybean operations to highly diversified farming systems—throughout the study states.

In the lab: Samples from farms and nearby water bodies will be analyzed to explore the environmental impacts of different farming systems.

At the kitchen table: Focus groups, detailed surveys and interviews with farmers, agronomists and crop consultants, policy makers and other stakeholders will explore the attitudes, barriers and pathways that surround diversification.

In cyberspace: Sophisticated models will combine field data, survey insights and computing power to predict economic and ecological outcomes from a wide range of diversification scenarios. With those results, we will build road maps to a more resilient, sustainable, prosperous future for the Corn Belt.


As we gather data and draw conclusions, our network of Extension and education professionals will share insights widely. We want to keep farmers, planners, processors, investors, policy makers and others in the conversation, and share what we’re learning with stakeholders throughout the Corn Belt—a diverse audience exploring the many interconnected factors that will lead to greater opportunities in the region.


In order to understand the current system and explore future possibilities—in order to even imagine what diversity means in the Corn Belt of the future—we need to hear from farmers, non-farm rural residents, city and town officials, bankers, grocers, processors, investors, policy makers and more. We need to hear from you.