Indigenous (Heirloom) Corn with Reduced Tillage and Cover Cropping Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $17,884.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: United South and Eastern Tribes
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Lea Zeise
United South and Eastern Tribes

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, intercropping, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Two Tribal farms in Northeast Wisconsin - Ohe.láku on the Oneida Reservation and Menīkānaehkem on the Menominee Reservation - grow Indigenous (heirloom) corn with volunteer labor to provide traditional foods to their Tribal Nations. They have identified their production challenges as weed pressure, costs of organic fertilizer, unavailability of labor, and inherited poor soil health. 

    The silver bullet solution may lie in cover cropping and reduced tillage. While not innovative in and of itself, these practices haven’t been studied with Indigenous corn. This project bridges two worlds of understanding to fill that gap - Indigenous grassroots farming and extension research. Ohe.láku and Menīkānaehkem are partnering with the UW-Madison and Outagamie County Land Conservation to understand the optimal applications of these practices for two Indigenous corn varieties. We estimate that results will demonstrate weed suppression and improved soil fertility and microbial diversity. These results will reduce fertilizer inputs and suppress weeds, saving money and labor time of Tribal members, allowing for Ohe.láku and Menīkānaehkem to focus on other aspects of their food sovereignty work. 

    Through outreach, we are hoping to build upon the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and create a connection from healthy soils to healthy food to healthy people.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate the usefulness of 3 cover crops (chicory, plantain and dutch white clover) interseeded with Tuscarora White Corn and Bear Island Flint Corn through field testing
    2. Prepare and evaluate usefulness of roller crimping of Aroostook Rye with these two corn varieties
    3. Share findings through field days, social media, a conference presentation, and scientific publications
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.