Grad student strengthens research skills studying sustainable corn production at the SWROC

September 14, 2023

Zac Aanerud, along with his advisor Fabian Fernandez, professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate, are working to find the “sweet spot” for sustainable corn production in Minnesota. Aanerud is a Water Resources Science graduate student who spent the past three summers living in his family's camper on a farmer’s land near Lamberton, MN, to be close to his research at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC). 

Aanerud spent his days at the SWROC in research plots taking gas measurements and soil, water and plant samples to quantify nitrogen losses in corn under ideal management conditions. He and Fernandez are analyzing all that data to determine what gains or losses in crop performance and environmental protection are acceptable or needed to balance crop production goals with environmental sustainability.  

Living near and working at the research site day-in and day-out has provided Aanerud valuable experience. “I’ve learned to approach research questions with a greater level of nuance and sophistication,” he says. “Additionally, my technical skills and research techniques have improved. Each summer, I have had the opportunity to refine my data collection methods, experimental design, and analysis techniques.” 

Aanerud has also had the chance to collaborate with other researchers and experts in the field during his summer research experiences. “These collaborations have provided me with invaluable mentorship and guidance, allowing me to gain insights into their approaches and best practices. By observing their methods and incorporating their feedback, I have been able to enhance my own research process.”

As the research project nears its end, Aanerud is starting to shift gears towards the crucial phase of data analysis and dissertation writing. “It's an exciting transition as we start to synthesize the vast amounts of data we have collected the past three summers. My advisor Fabian and I are eager to unravel the insights hidden within these numbers, bringing us one step closer to sustainable corn production in Minnesota.”

Aanerud’s research is supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Watershed Innovations (WINS) Grant Program of the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey.