- Crop Production: cover crops
- Education and Training: decision support system
The professional development process of updating the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) cover crop decision tool has a multi-level target audience. First we will focus on each of eight state’s cover crop experts for team building while developing the decision tool. A cover crop resource training for educators will target Extension educators and NRCS field staff. At the conclusion of the project a cover crop decision tool and resources will be made available to public for free.
Project outcomes include development of state core cover crop teams, consensus of state recommendations, uniform cover crop messaging for each state, and increased knowledge of cover crop practices for educators and crop advisors. These learning outcomes will contribute to more confident and successful cover crop recommendations and more acres will be cover cropped. Additional cover crop acres results in better water quality, enhanced soil health, and carbon sequestered.
Project activities includes organizing state-wide teams of cover crop professionals to create or update the MCCC cover crop decision tool for their respective state. This team will meet to discuss information and experiences for the decision tool during one in-person meeting and a series of four to five video conferences. Educators will be invited to a training on using cover crop resources to develop workshops and consult with farmers. Educator trainings will focus on providing realistic recommendations in real word situations. We plan to reach a minimum of 10-15 educators including Extension and NRCS at each of 8 state meetings.
Project objectives from proposal:
A considerable investment for capacity building in eight states constitutes the majority of this project. Building a team of cover crop experts in each state will enrich the quality of cover crop education for educators and farmers alike. The process of discussing personal cover crop experiences and specialized information will help each state’s team of experts reach consensus for the cover crop recommendations across the state the team-building achieved during this series of one in-person meeting and four or five video conferences will spark cover crop networking at the highest level. Experts from University, Extension, NRCS, seed companies, other agriculture industry, and experienced farmers will be invited to attend these discussions. Inviting a diverse group of experts to these discussions will facilitate inter-agency cooperation and buy-in from multiple partners. The cooperation and consensus between the experts in these agencies will trickle down to encourage collaboration in the field and a consistent message to farmers.
The information generated by the core cover crop team will be used in the MCCC decision tool and to train educators in multiple agencies. There are several learning outcomes that will be accomplished through the development of the MCCC cover crop decision tool. Among these is knowledge of species specific seeding windows by county for each state in the North Central Region, knowledge of cover crop species attributes for specific resource concerns (e.g., erosion control, nitrogen scavenging, etc.), knowledge of proper seeding rates, and awareness of cautions to using certain species. Our project will focus on providing this information to conservation professionals, but it will be made available to the public online.
The result of this knowledge will lead to better cover crop choices for specific situations through strong state recommendations and a consistent cover crop message across agencies. Successful cover crop adoption will lead to increased cover crop acres. The successful adoption of cover crops across the North Central Region will translate into improved environmental and farm resiliency. Cover crop adoption is known to provide several key environmental benefits. Cover crops reduce nutrient loss by preventing erosion and sedimentation in waterways. Cover crops also reduce nutrient loss by capturing nitrogen and phosphorus that may otherwise be lost without a growing crop. Cover crops can be an important tool in manure management. They utilize soluble nutrients and hold them in a stable form until a cash crop is grown and can utilize them. Legume cover crops can add nitrogen to the nutrient cycle and may supplement nitrogen inputs.
Cover crop use can aide in establishing a sustainable water supply by improving soil infiltration and percolation through the soil profile. Cover crops are known to sequester carbon by building soil organic matter. Spread over all Midwestern crop production acres, this has the potential to be a considerable carbon sink. Improved infiltration and water holding capacity will lessen the effects of drought, excessive rainfall, and high temperatures on crops in a more variable climate. Cover crops are essential in improving soil health across the Midwest. Research has shown living roots provide immense benefit in improving the biological and physical properties of the soil. A diverse crop rotation including multiple cover crop species provides the habitat for soil microbes and larger organisms that are critical in building soil health.