In summer 2018, the country’s newest cover crop council – the Western Cover Crop Council (WCCC) – was formed. The WCCC was born from a need for farmers and agricultural professionals to have more information on cover crop research and use in the Western Region. Similar to the established Midwest, Southern, and Northeast Cover Crop Councils, the WCCC aims to significantly increase the use of cover crops in western agricultural systems. To achieve this goal, the WCCC needs information on regional rates of cover crop adoption and barriers to adoption. The WCCC also needs to build a strategic network of agricultural professionals conducting cover crop outreach/research and farmers using cover crops.
In addition to being an effective agroecological practice that enhances soil biodiversity, new research is showing that cover cropping also has important implications for human gut health (1). Therefore, an additional focus of this proposal is to engage researchers, health practitioners, and food businesses that seek to create nutrient-dense, microbiologically active foods through regenerative soil health practices, such as cover cropping. This proposal will gather data on cover crop adoption and barriers to adoption by western farmers through focus groups and a survey, use the data collected to inform cover crop outreach and research, build the WCCC network of cover crop-focused agricultural professionals and farmers, use the WCCC network to coordinate outreach and research, foster cover crop business opportunities for farmers, and, ultimately, increase use of cover crops.
*Note: This is a regional application and all citations attached.
- Focus groups and a survey of western farmers to identify 1) cover crop adoption rates, 2) factors associated with adoption, 3) barriers to adoption, 4) rates of participation in federal incentive programs, 5) opportunities to promote adoption, and 6) outreach and research gaps (October 2019-April 2020).
- Host four sub-regional meetings to unite the network of cover crop outreach/research efforts throughout the West in the following climatic zones: Intermountain West, Maritime PNW, Inland PNW, and the Southwest. Meeting participants will include agricultural professionals involved in cover crop outreach/research and farmers. Two meetings will be held in Summer 2020 and two in Spring 2021. A fifth meeting will be held remotely via webinar to link Alaska, Hawaii, and the Islands with the WCCC network, paving the way for future in-person conferences. Each meeting will have the following agenda items:
- Share focus group and survey results;
- Present current region-wide and sub-region-specific cover crop research;
- Facilitate discussion among scientists, health practitioners, farmers, and food business leaders on regenerative agriculture as it relates to cover crops and food market opportunities for farmers;
- Facilitate session to create “hot shot” teams tackling emerging themes, barriers, and outreach opportunities in each sub-region;
- Field tour demonstrating local cover cropping practices.
- Build the WCCC presence by advertising the WCCC listserv, developing a quarterly newsletter, and social media platforms (October 2019 to project end date).
- Work directly with the cover crop seed industry to understand their needs and opportunities. One of the sub-regional meetings will specifically focus on the seed industry and connecting the needs of farmers with the industry research (Summer 2020 to project end date).
- Increase cover crop adoption across the Western region (throughout project).
Although cover crops are receiving more attention from farmers, researchers, policy makers, and media, a 2012 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Census indicates that less than 5% (10.3 million acres) of the nation’s total row crop land is planted in cover crops (20,21). Much of the current knowledge on cover crop adoption comes from SARE and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) Cover Crop survey. However, in the final (2017) SARE/CTIC Cover Crop survey, less than 50 survey respondents (out of 1,770) were from the West, and 80% of respondents were commodity crop farmers, primarily corn, soybean and wheat. The Western Region hosts different cropping and climatic systems and cover crop species and management practices. Thus, it may not be appropriate for cover crop adoption outreach to be primarily based on adoption rates and barriers specific to midwestern farmers as it is now. What’s more, the cover crop seed industry is prominent in the West and is the main producer of Brassica, clover, and annual ryegrass cover crop varieties. As this proposal looks to increase cover crop adoption in the West, there are opportunities to develop cover crop seed production tailored to western farmer.
Awareness is growing that soil biodiversity affects human health by suppressing disease-causing soil organisms and providing clean air and water. Recently, a connection to the nutritional quality of food and human gut microbiota was found (22,23,24,25,26). Human gut microbiome diversity has been shown to impact metabolism, immune development, intestinal homeostasis, and brain processes and behavior (27). For example, people in urban environments are more prone to inflammatory disorders like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and allergic diseases, attributed to a lack of soil microbiological functions. Transmission of gut microbiological organisms comes directly from the environment and land management practices (28). A unique approach to this proposal involves linking cover crop users, health practitioners, scientists, and food businesses to innovative new market opportunities for sustainably produced food. These new market opportunities will benefit farmers by enhancing their income and quality of life, and by developing a new motivational linkage for adopting cover crops. Examples of new market opportunities that are starting to shape the food system include pulse powders and pea hull fiber foods, used in sauces, cereals, and baked goods to add flavor, texture, fiber, and protein.
Within the WSARE database, over 30 proposals have focused on cover crop research and outreach since 2013. This proposal will engage these researchers as the WCCC network is developed.
In summary, we propose to gather data on cover crop adoption and barriers to adoption by western farmers through focus groups and a survey, use the data collected to inform cover crop outreach and research, build the WCCC network of cover crop-focused agricultural professionals and farmers, use the WCCC network to coordinate outreach and research, foster cover crop business opportunities for farmers, and, ultimately, increase use of cover crops.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The PI is in process of hiring a program assistant and getting a subaward to the Co-PI at Oregon State University.