Upper Mississippi River Basin

Who operates and manages this LTAR site?

The Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) LTAR project includes several cooperating locations in the UMRB watershed. They include Ames, Iowa, St. Paul, Minnesota, Platteville Wisconsin, and Morris, Minnesota. The USDA-Agricultural Research Service North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory is located in Morris, Minnesota. The Soil Management Research unit in Morris manages the UMRB-Morris satellite location.


The mission of the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory is to enhance productive conservation of agricultural and natural resources base, improve environmental health, and contribute to national food security through diversified, competitive, and resilient agro-ecosystems in the upper Midwest.  The North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory – Soil Management Unit is located in Stevens County in West-Central Minnesota. This site is located in the upper and western reaches of the Upper Mississippi River Basin watershed that is predominantly prime farmland. The on-farm cooperator site provides farm-scale research potential and the Swan Lake Research Farm provides opportunity for complimentary smaller research-scale plots. The site is designated as part of the LTAR “common experiment” comparing agricultural and environmental results from “business as usual” and “aspirational” best agricultural practices.


The UMRB – Morris site is located in the northern portion of the Upper Mississippi River Basin watershed that intersects with the NRCS Heartland farm resource region. The NRCS identifies the site in Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) 102A – Rolling Till Prairie and is located in the “Prairie Pothole” region which has a nearly level to rolling topography with many small depressions and ill-defined waterways. Drainage flows through the Pomme De Terre (on-farm site) or Chippewa (Swan Lake Research Farm) watersheds to the Minnesota River which eventually joins the Mississippi.

Specific to the on-farm site, a majority of the soil is composed of Balaton-Hamerly complex with 1 to 4 percent slopes, followed by Vallers clay loam with 0-2 percent slope. Additional soils found are Parnell silty clay loam (occasionally ponded with 0-1 percent slopes) and Tonka loam. This farmland is generally classified as “prime farmland” or “prime farmland if drained”. The clay loam and silty clay loams provide high water holding capacity in dry periods and challenges when excessively wet.


The climate is classified as warm summer continental. The average annual temperature is 5.7 °C. The warmest month, on average, is July with an average temperature of 20.6°C. The coolest month on average is January, with an average temperature of -13.3°C. Average frost free growing season is about 148 days. Average annual rainfall is 673 mm.


The two eddy covariance flux towers installed at the on-farm field-scale site measure water and carbon dioxide fluxes, air temperature, solar radiation, wind speeds, relative humidity, and soil temperatures. Business as usual practice for this farm cooperator is a strip-tillage corn and soybean rotation. The aspirational field will introduce wheat in the rotation and possibly tillage radish and cover crops such as winter camelina and pennycress. The aspirational nature of this cooperating farmer’s standard practice provides an opportunity to place another set of instrumentation on a nearby farm with a more conventional tillage system with a corn-soybean rotation. The Swan Lake Research Farm weather station measures wind speed and direction, solar radiation, air and soil temperatures, soil heat flux, rainfall and all-weather precipitation. Phenocams record images of the two field sites and plots at the Swan Lake Research Farm. A small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) is used to record crop images at regular intervals for the on-farm sites.

Classification System

Farm Resource Regions:  Heartland
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC-2):   07 – Upper Mississippi River, 02 – Minnesota River; Swan Lake Research Farm: 07020005 – Chippewa Watershed; On-Farm Site: 07020002 – Pomme De Terre Watershed
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON):  Domain D9 (Northern Plains)
NRCS Major Land:  102A – Rolling Till Prairie

LTAR Research Emphases

  1. Soil Health (soil biological, chemical, and physical properties)
  2. Carbon, water, and energy measurements with flux towers
  3. Crop rotations and cover crops
  4. Reduced tillage


The Soil Management Unit has been a partner in the following multi-location efforts:

The site is also a partner in the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative.

The Morris location often works cooperatively with North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, University of Minnesota, and ARS locations at Brookings SD and St. Paul MN.


Other Networks (where data is shared)

  • The Swan Lake Research Farm weather data is uploaded to the National Ag Library and the locations web site.
  • Phenocam images are shared on the National Phenocam Network.

USDA Climate Hub

Midwest Hub

Site Name

Upper Mississippi River Basin – Morris



Morris, Minnesota


On-farm LTAR gas-exchange sites were established in fall 2016. The first full year of data collection was during the 2017 growing season. Starting as early as 2003, the Morris lab was involved with establishing as many as five gas-exchange sites on other nearby on-farm research projects in cooperative efforts with the St. Paul, MN ARS lab. The Swan Lake Research Farm Weather Station was established in 1998 and incorporated into the LTAR network in 2015.

Area (km2)



Jane Johnson (Acting RL – Morris), Abdullah Jaradat (Morris), Tom Morrman (Ames IA), John Baker (St. Paul)