Enhancing Cover Crop Training in the North Central Region

Final report for ENC20-193

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Kladivko Eileen
Purdue University
Anna Morrow
Purdue University
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Project Information


Cover crop adoption is rapidly increasing as is an important agricultural tool in progressing to a more sustainable future. Cover crops reduce nutrient loss and soil erosion while building farmer resiliency for a more variable climate. It is the mission of the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) to facilitate successful adoption of cover crops in the North Central Region and beyond. Continually expanding the reach and use of MCCC’s suite of freely available cover crop resources by cover crop decision-makers, users and non-users alike is critical to increasing cover crop adoption and use. This proposal will facilitate the growth of the MCCC into broader target audiences through professional development of Extension educators, crop advisors, agri-businesses and NRCS professionals. The MCCC will conduct a minimum of six in-person trainings for farm advisors who may not be confident making cover crop recommendations, four in-person networking events for cover crop experts with follow-up conference calls, and eleven live webinars that will be recorded and posted to the MCCC website for general agricultural stakeholders and the public. This strategy of targeting a diverse audience is the best approach to increasing awareness of available cover crop educational materials and tools. A portion of this project will be used to ensure that MCCC resources such as the cover crop decision tool are kept up-to-date and delivery of resources remain current and relevant. The use of relevant, research-based cover crop information will ultimately lead to increased successful cover crop adoption and improved environmental sustainability.

Project Objectives:

For the national meetings we anticipate 150 participants at each of two trainings. These participants will be educators and government employees that work directly with farmers and whom don’t feel confident giving basic cover crop recommendations. The national conferences that MCCC will target to present cover crop training include National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA), Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), and National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).

At the state cover crop trainings, MCCC anticipates 50 participants from Extension and government from each of four states (KS, MO, NE, IN) for a total of 200 participants. These trainings again will be marketed toward educators with close contact to farmers who don’t feel confident giving basic cover crop recommendations.

Decision tool update meeting invitations will be extended to cover crop experts including Extension specialists, educators, NRCS, SWCD, seedsmen, and farmers with strong cover crop experience. The number of experts in these meetings is variable by state, but we plan for 12-15 per state. With this estimate we will provide professional development to approximately 55 cover crop specialists across four states.  

MCCC anticipates 50 participants in each of eleven webinars, for a goal of 550 connections. The webinars will be marketed toward Extension, government employees, and crop advisors but will be open to farmers and the general public. These webinars will be posted and additional views will be tallied.

The physical products of this project include several resources that will keep the MCCC relevant. The decision tools for Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Indiana will be updated with the latest state-wide recommendations for cover crops. The decision tool will also have the capability to link with additional cover crop tools that are currently under development by board members. This interoperability will be tested with these tools. The cover crop pocket field guide will be revised and free copies distributed to the first 50 registrants of the webinar.


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Educational approach:

The educational approach for the components of the project are very straightforward. Our team revised the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide to be used as an educational reference. This is a printed guide that can be used by educators and farmers alike for self study or quick reference. We reviewed the revisions to the guide in a live webinar. This served as a summary of the guide.

The educational approach for webinars was to education agronomy professionals and other educators so that they could more effectively use materials already developed by MCCC and University of Missouri with support from the Walton Family Foundation. 

The educational approach of the decision tool updates was two-fold. First, cover crop specialists increased their knowledge and network by reviewing the decision tool data. The secondary approach is to document the experience and knowledge gained by these experts in the form of the cover crop decision tool. This tool is freely available to farmers, educators, and the public in general to use for knowledge gain. 

The MCCC has also leveraged additional funding to create various other factsheets, videos, and materials. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Cover Crop Field Guide Update

The objective of this initiative was to revise the second edition of the cover crop field guide and summarize changes to the guide in a live webinar.


The revision of the Cover Crops Field Guide took a committee of ten several months of information gathering and discussion. Experts in various fields were consulted to ensure the most accurate and current research and information were included in the new guide. The third edition field guide has approximately 25% more content than the second edition. There were three cover crop species added to the guide as well as a section on species that are currently used in a cover crop mix that included an additional ten species.

A webinar summarizing changes to the guide was presented live, to inform clients of what new information was available in the field guide. The webinar was recorded and posted to the MCCC website for later viewing. 50 webinar participants received a free field guide. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Over 14,800 updated field guides have been sold within the project time period. This is a good reference that educators can learn from and share with farmers. 

There have been 540 views of the recorded webinar. 

Cover Crop Module Webinars

The objective of this initiative was to train professionals to use the modules developed by the University of Missouri and MCCC.


The eleven cover crop modules that were developed under a previous project were presented by MCCC experts as webinars and recorded. The eleven modules are a set of cover crop presentations on powerpoint with speaker notes. The presentations are available to use and adapt for educational use. The webinars and their recordings serve as a demonstration of the modules and will improve efficiency and confidence in using the module presentations. 

Outcomes and impacts:

There have been 270 views of the posted webinars. 

MCCC Annual Meeting and Conference

The objective of this initiative is to share cover crop research results from across the Midwest to encourage successful adoption and continue to build a network of cover crop professionals.


The MCCC hosts an annual meeting and conference each year. The program is organized by the host state or province's cover crop team with help from the MCCC executive committee and program manger. Each state and province as well as partners share a short up update of cover crop research and activities on the first day (annual meeting). The second day is a traditional conference determined by the host, and is sometimes held in conjunction with a standing conference. The annual meeting and conference is rotated around the Midwest, and advertised to local farmers and professionals. 

Outcomes and impacts:

There were 85 attendees to the MCCC annual meeting in 2023. 

MCCC Promotion

The objective of this initiative is to expand the audience of the MCCC in order to make our materials more widely available and encourage successful use of cover crops.


In order to broaden the reach of the MCCC, the program manager has attended various meetings to increase awareness of the organization. MCCC materials were displayed at exhibit booths and connections were made with various organizations, farmers, and professionals. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Holding an exhibitors booth at educational meetings, indirect contact with approximately 1100 people.

Cover Crop Decision Tool Update

The objective of this initiative is twofold. The first is to improve networking and consensus building within a state. The second is to update the data within the MCCC cover crop selector tool for professionals and farmers to have specific cover crop recommendations.


Cover crop experts including extension, NRCS, farmers, seed industry, and others are gathered to review the data within the cover crop decision tool. Through the review of the information, professionals share their experiences and learn from each other. They are required to come to consensus recommendations through discussion. This creates stronger recommendations documented within the tool, as well as very specific cover crop education and sharing for professionals. The recommendations that the team creates are documented in decision tool form and available online for free. 

Outcomes and impacts:

One of the greatest impacts of this initiative is strengthening the network of cover crop experts within a state. Through our decision tool update discussions, they are able to share knowledge, experiences, and strengthen an inter-organizational network. 

All of the recommendations, cautions, and tips from the experts are documented in the decision tool for public use. 

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
10 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
2 Other educational activities: Holding an exhibitors booth at educational meetings, indirect contact with approximately 1100 people

Participation Summary:

25 Extension
453 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
17 Farmers/ranchers
24 Others

Learning Outcomes

135 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
43 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

The third edition of the Cover Crops Field Guide has been released and over 14,800 copies sold. 

The Covid-19 pandemic did disrupt planning for some initiatives that rely heavily on in-person networking and instruction.

Updates to the Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Indiana cover crop decision tools have been completed. An agricultural informatics lab at Purdue University has begun work on an application programming interface (API) to address interoperability of decision support tools. This API will make MCCC information more widely available and will continue in upcoming projects. 

The cover crop modules for crop advisors webinars have been posted on the MCCC website. 

The MCCC website moved servers roughly halfway through the course of this project. This caused some disruption in our website analytics, but it does show growth in use of the website during this time. There were 19,000 users of the website on the previous server for roughly the first half of the project and 28,000 users of the website on the new server in roughly the second half of the project. The MCCC website use grew by 9,000 users over the course of this project. These users accessed the website for various different resources including the decision tool and crop advisor modules. 

42 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

This project relied heavily on indirect impact. The activities carried out in this project contributed to many cover crop products, which we plan to have far-reaching and lasting impact but these are not measurable. The success of the the website and field guide speak to the impact of the project, but are not recorded as direct impact. 

Webinar participants were surveyed to answer questions such as number of ag professionals who intend to share their knowledge. The survey response rate was 20%, so there is a strong likelihood that the webinars alone were more impactful than we have data to report. We have designed the website, decision tool, field guide, and other resources to be impactful though we are not able to follow-up to confirm and report these numbers. 

Information Products

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.