Seeking New Opportunities Through Collaborative Research

Research answers the “what if” questions that lead to new uses, new markets, new opportunities and new ways to grow corn even more efficiently and sustainably.

NCB research dollars are continually seeking new opportunities for corn farmers. What is the “next ethanol?” The emerging new use for corn that will again change the game for Nebraska farmers? What breakthrough will lead to significant change in the way farmers grow their crops, to use even less water, less fertilizer?

The majority of Nebraska Corn research dollars are invested in partnership with the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nebraska Corn also collaborates on research projects with fellow corn states, cooperators and other stakeholders.

Learn more about some of our research here.

Early corn plant coming out of the dirt

Research Priorities

As corn yields increase, Nebraska Corn Board research dollars have focused less on helping farmers grow more corn, but rather on helping farmers grow their corn even more efficiently and create new markets for those increasing yields.

Production efficiency research projects include:

  • Project SENSE, which is focused on increasing nitrogen efficiency utilizing real time sensing of the needs of the crop, increasing sustainability.
  • Support for Aquamart, a grassroots network of farmers using precision technology, irrigation management and best practices to help individual farmers improve their management of water.
  • Measuring and managing the yield gap between the genetic yield potential of a specific corn hybrid versus actual yield.
  • Soil health initiatives including the use of cover crops, conservation tillage and participation in Farmers For Soil Health.
  • Support of the UNL On-Farm Research program, which engages Nebraska farmers in research projects in their fields.

Research funding for new uses of corn includes:

  • Creating a Presidential Chair faculty position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused solely on creating greater demand for corn through the development of new uses in bioproducts.
  • Studying resistant starches in corn to determine their viability in food products to help reduce weight gain, improve metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Funding the “Consider Corn Challenge,” a national initiative designed to identify and fund entrepreneurs, product developers and manufacturers who have found new ways to use corn.
  • “Green chemicals,” which replace toxic or petroleum-based ingredients with safe, environmentally friendly ingredients derived from corn
Cornfield being watered by an irrigation system

Submitting Research RFPs

The Nebraska Corn Board distributes an annual request for proposals (RFP) as a process to collect, review and ultimately decide on proposals to fund. Although we request that proposals be submitted for research during this process, the Nebraska Corn Board will review proposals through the year, should they be submitted outside of the annual RFP process and timeline.

Learn how to submit RFP

Explore Top Research Projects Current and Recent

This project seeks to add value to the US corn crop by producing a biodegradable plastic, called PHA from coproducts of the ethanol production process. New policy initiatives around the world have banned single-use plastics. This new sustainably sourced alternative degrades naturally in just a few months and could be a viable replacement to single-use plastics.

Recycled or reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) materials are commonly used to create new asphalt pavements. Currently, this process relies on petroleum-based oils to achieve a reliable product, but corn oil is a viable alternative. This project tests the use of corn oil as a recycling agent, modified with new chemistry combinations, to enhance the sustainability of asphalt pavement production. This application of corn oil can bring new national and international use and expand into a large sustainable market for the corn industry.

Nebraska is increasingly facing significant nitrogen (N) management challenges in sustaining corn production while protecting drinking groundwater quality. One option to address these challenges is to follow the “4Rs” concept (the Right source, at the Right place, in the Right time, and at the Right rate). Results of this study will be used to improve UNL’s nitrogen algorithm and provide much-needed information to stakeholders in identifying the Right fertilizer source and Right placement at the Right timing of N application for sustaining crop yield, improving profits, reducing N losses, and protecting drinking groundwater quality.

Nebraska corn growers are constantly challenged to grow corn responsibly using proven sustainable practices resulting in less impact on the environment. Corn growers typically ask the question “Does this new production practice or a specific input work to improve the corn yield on my farm and does it provide an economic payback?” On-farm research can help a grower answer these important questions. The focus of this program is to enhance the ability for corn growers to make data-driven decisions and remain competitive leaders in corn production. Nebraska On-Farm Research Network | Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (unl.edu)

Corn kernel fiber is a natural, renewable, and low-cost resource created through the ethanol production process. Currently, it is used as a low-grade animal feed ingredient, but it could have another use. Carbon fiber (CF), a synthetic material used in electronics, aviation, and automobile manufacturing is currently created from petroleum-based products. This project has developed a novel process of converting corn kernel fiber to high-quality carbon fiber. This new, high-value specialty product is important for increasing the value of Nebraska’s corn crop.

The Genomes to Fields Initiative (G2F) seeks to understand how differences in genotype, environment, and management decisions interact to determine difference in yield across different farms, environments, and years. Understanding what factors affect corn yield in certain areas is critical to guide management decisions, as well as the selection of the proper hybrids for specific environments. This work has been underway since 2014 and involves researchers from 22 states.

The western corn rootworm is a major pest of continuous corn in Nebraska that

feeds on corn roots, reducing plant growth and lowering yields. This insect is highly adaptable and has evolved resistance to many management strategies used against it. This project tests innovative tactics to combat the spread of corn rootworm including biological control and cover crops. A truly integrated IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach is critical to staying ahead of this crop pest.

It is important that youth recognize career pathways in the food, agriculture, and natural resource industries to fill those jobs. Since 2012, the Innovative Youth Corn Challenge has engaged 178 youth with in-depth, experiential learning. This partnership between the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Extension has created an awareness of agronomic-related career opportunities and successfully involved youth in rigorous hands-on inquiry-based learning through completion of on-farm research or demonstration plots in Nebraska corn fields. Innovative Youth Corn Challenge | CropWatch (unl.edu)

The Testing Ag Performance Solutions (TAPS) program is a farm management competition that challenges producers in areas of input use efficiency and profitability. The goals and mission of the TAPS program align closely with those of the Nebraska Corn Board (NCB), especially as we seek to identify sustainable and profitable management practices and solutions for corn production. A key benefit of the TAPS program is that it provides producers the opportunity to try new and emerging technologies and management strategies prior to purchasing and adopting on their own farm. This program provides a touchstone where people can observe and use new ideas, test conventional wisdom, and discover better ways to do business in an environment of friendly competition. Testing Ag Performance Solutions-(TAPS) | Nebraska (unl.edu)

Nitrogen (N) fertilizer is necessary for high corn yields and farmer profitability. While

Nebraska corn growers have steadily improved nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) in corn production over the last 50 years, room still exists to improve NUE, while maintaining or increasing yields. This project seeks to develop an online platform that allows farmers to evaluate current NUE and identify agricultural practices to increase their efficiency without losing yields and profit.

Beef production is often considered a negative impact on the environment due to concerns with greenhouse gas emissions, particularly due to methane produced during fermentation. This study uses pen-level methane barns to capture and quantify the impact of feeding different types of distillers grains and feed combinations on methane gas production. If feeding distillers grains decreases methane production, then value increases for use in beef feedlots, particularly if the distillers are of common types in Nebraska. Curriculum is also being added so students can see and learn about how cattle digest forage and grains (and distillers grains) through rumen fermentation.

Cover crops (CC) have the potential to improve soil health and sustainability of cropping operations. In corn systems it is difficult to incorporate cover crops due to the short growing windows before planting and after harvest. Having the cover crop establish while the corn is growing may be an option to increase the CC biomass and the potential benefits. This project is evaluating the impacts of incorporating early interseeded cover crops with and without grazing on soil health and yield. This research and education project will allow us to gain new knowledge of integrated management impacts on soil health, crop and cattle productivity, and farm profitability.

The University of Nebraska is developing the Ag Budget Calculator (ABC) program to assist producers in developing individualized cash and economic cost and return estimates. ABC is a user-friendly, Windows- and MAC-compatible, online budgeting system that provides breakeven and enterprise cost and return metrics useful in production, cost control and other management decision-making. Users can either develop their crop budgets from scratch or upload one of the 80+ University of Nebraska crop budgets and then customize that budget to match their cropping practices. Agricultural Budget Calculator | Center for Agricultural Profitability (unl.edu)

To learn more about these and other NCB-funded research projects, contact Rachael Whitehair, Director of Innovation & Stewardship at rachael.whitehair@nebraska.gov.