Traveling from northern Iowa to southern Illinois, a traveler may encounter several different soil types which may result in different practices.

Lee Burras has spent his career studying the differences in soils in different regions. Much of the ground differences started with glaciers, he said.

“If we look at the north-central United States, when we talk about the corn belt, I would point out that glaciers covered some areas that fit in well here,” Burras said in a talk for Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Glaciers covered much of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, as well as the northern Missouri region, forming much of the Corn Belt today.

And while there are differences between states, things can change significantly when looking at other countries.

Burras has led numerous study-abroad trips for Iowa State University students to see agronomy in action in places like France, Ecuador, and Uruguay. In the program, students can learn about the soils of other countries while seeing how they shape agricultural practices in those countries.

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“The United States is culturally diverse, but students can also compare and contrast as they move. It’s a cultural exchange and they get to see interesting things like volcanoes,” said Jodi Cornell, director of study abroad for Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

By examining these soils and learning how farmers manage their crops, Cornell said he and the students can bring this information back. Although soils are different in the United States, it is important to understand how much of an impact a change in soil type can have.

“Before the pandemic, about 23 to 25 percent of our graduates had international experience before graduating,” Cornell said. “We are catching up on that.

This program also creates a network for students and professors with other universities around the world. This may allow other professors or researchers to travel to the United States and conduct some of their own research in the rich soils of the Midwest. These opportunities allow students to learn about other cultures without leaving the country.

Cornell said he hopes students can broaden their horizons as they prepare for professional work in the years to come. Many of the problems faced by other countries are similar to those in the United States, Cornell said — from runoff to erosion and concerns about climate change.

“The people leading these trips come from animal science, agronomy, or whatever area of ​​our program,” Cornell said. “We have a program that went to Antarctica because there are a lot of birds to study. We have a program in Uganda for the management of natural resource ecology.

This year, the College of Ag Life and Sciences leads the rest of the university in study abroad trips, with 17 planned for this year. Before the pandemic, there were 18 to 22 trips a year, and Cornell said programs were starting to reopen as requirements eased for international travel.

During the pandemic, Cornell said Burras helped set up virtual programs with Costa Rica and Uruguay for students who were unable to travel.