Partners In The Pursuit Of Better Crops

Iowa farmers long have been driven to improve crop production. They joined together in the early 1900s to form organizations that sought better varieties of corn,more advanced ways to clean and select seed and improved tillage techniques.

And they partnered with Iowa State University to conduct research and expand their knowledge. Statewide corn shows drew farmers to the university’s Armory as early as 1904 for corn judging, competition and information.

Those first grower groups shared many goals and eventually combined in 1950 as the Iowa Crop Improvement Association. Jim Rouse (’87 animal science, ’90 MS entomology, ’04 PhD plant breeding), executive director since 2007, says its long history with Iowa State includes many connections.

Three of the association’s board members are from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences—Endowed Dean Wendy Wintersteen (’88 PhD entomology), Manjit Misra, director of the Seed Science Center and Kendall Lamkey (’85 PhD agronomy), chair of the Department of Agronomy.

The nonprofit organization supports the student crop judging team, offers a summer internship program, awards several scholarships through Iowa State, funds research and sponsors the Iowa FFA Agronomy Career Development event. Scholarships are evaluated and adjusted depending on the agronomy department’s greatest need.

“The association supports the seed industry and agriculture, in general, but it supports the university very specifically,” Rouse says.

Lamkey says students in agronomy benefit directly from the association’s support. Its sponsorship of the crop judging team reinforces the association’s origins.

He also points to connections with agronomy’s external stakeholders.

“Iowa Crop helps keep us directly linked with the seed industry, through its role as the official seed-certifying agency for the state,” Lamkey says.

Seed certification is required for seed that’s shipped internationally. Rouse says a lot of seed beans grown in Iowa are exported to Canada and Europe, with seed corn going mainly to Canada and South America.

The organization’s statewide yield test results continue to be a sought-after service by farmers, and this year will mark its 95th anniversary. It helps fulfill the need for unbiased information on crop production.

“There might have been yield information available before it began in 1920, but that was when it was standardized and centralized. Before it was more of a local endeavor,” Rouse says.

Chuck Cornelius (’83 agronomy), president of Cornelius Seed in northeast Iowa, says companies like his rely on the testing program.

“The Iowa Crop Performance Test provides Iowa’s corn and soybean growers a much needed, independent third-party testing service and has one of the best reputations in the industry,” says Cornelius, a former ICIA board member.

“ICIA does a great job testing across the state so growers have local data for their area. The growers who use this data gain confidence to plant new hybrids that will increase their yields.”