The Northeast Cover Crops Council: Building the network and online decision support tools
Cover crops are multi-functional tools that that provide numerous ecosystem services and impact on-farm economics, crop productivity, and system resilience to climate change. While there is a long history of cover crop research and extension in the Northeastern US, information on cover crop selection and management to maximize the provisioning of ecosystem services is scattered across institutions. Furthermore, farmers have unique combinations of production goals and constraints and need tools that tailor cover crop selection and management to their needs. A multi-state, multi-institutional organization that links states together, defines knowledge gaps, and informs agricultural professionals is sorely needed.
Our proposed solution is to form a Northeast Cover Crops Council (NECCC) and modify existing online decision support tools for use in the Northeast. The NECCC will support and encourage cover crop use in the long-term through outreach activities including an annual conference, and by serving as a central clearinghouse for cover crop resources and tools in the Northeast. The annual conference will allow researchers and agricultural professionals to define knowledge gaps, build networks, coordinate necessary research to address these gaps, and present research results that will assist farmers in choosing/managing cover crops to maximize potential benefits. In the intermediate- and long-term, it is our goal to use data synthesis and meta-analysis to modify several existing cover crop tools and calculators for use in the Northeast. In the short-term, we intend to modify the existing Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) online cover crop decision tool for use in the Northeast. We will first modify the MCCC decision tool for use in each Northeast state, starting with our largest states. We will expand our efforts to teach additional ag-service providers how to use the tool by hosting train-the-trainer events at field days, workshops, and the annual NECCC meeting. Ultimately, the ag-service providers will 1) use the tool to tailor cover crop selection and management to the farmer’s crop-system needs and constraints, and 2) teach farmers how to use the tool independently to best accomplish their cover crop goals.
A total of 270 Northeastern agricultural service providers will learn how to use the NECCC cover crop decision tool. These project beneficiaries will use the tools to make cover crop selection and management recommendations for 3,000 farmers who plant 1.5 million acres of row and vegetable crops.
- At least one researcher/extension educator per involved state (DE, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, PA, NH, and VT) and representatives from USDA-ARS and -NRCS will meet for the first annual NECCC meeting (3/31/2016). This meeting will lay the foundation for the NECCC by defining the organizational structure and timeline.
Since the project start date was in September 2016, this is the sole milestone we have met so far. We did adjust this milestone – we decided to hold two meetings in 2016, one on March 31-April 1 (spring) in Baltimore/Beltsville, MD and one November 16-17 (fall) in Beltsville, MD.
The spring meeting served as an initial gathering of interested stakeholders to begin the process of building rapport. The agenda (attached) included time for stakeholders to discuss cover crop developments in their state and provide insight as to what the goals/expectations should be for the NECCC . Dean Bass from the Midwest Cover Crops Council spoke about that group’s formation and efforts, Michel Cavigelli presented an overview of the Northeast Climate Hub, and Brandon Smith introduced the group to the NRCS Soil Health Initiative. The cover crop decision tool was presented along with plans to modify it for use in the Northeast. The meeting was attended by one representative from the Midwest Cover Crops Council and one from the Southern Cover Crops Council, roughly six representatives from USDA ARS or NRCS, five ag-industry personnel, three farmers, and twelve university/Extension personnel.
At the fall meeting, we contracted with a meeting facilitator (Joseph McIntyre of Ag Innovations). Mr. McIntyre assisted us in creating a process-based agenda (attached) with small-group work/exercises that was so fruitful that we intend to write a publication based on meeting activities (Fig. 1). Agenda topics included the strategic contexts for the NECCC (external context, internal capacity, our definitions of success, organizational opportunities and weaknesses), mission statement development, discussion of our governing structure and leadership, discussion of the website and cover crop decision tool, and brainstorming of new ideas for research and funding. Most of these materials will feature in the strategic plan that Victoria Ackroyd is currently drafting. One representative from the Southern Cover Crops Council, seven ag-industry personnel, roughly ten farmers, seven USDA ARS or NRCS personnel, and twelve university/Extension personnel attended the meeting. Among attendees were at least one representative from an NGO non-profit and one state agriculture department.
Figure 1. Activities at the November 16-17, 2016 NECCC meeting (clockwise from top left): stakeholders met for dinner nightly; small-group discussion; Kate Tully reports on conclusions reached by her group; whole-group discussion and flip-charts also featured on the agenda.
NECCC Decision Tool Development Milestones
- 5 Extension educators, 5 agricultural industry representatives, and 5 farmers from the states of NY, PA, and MD who work with cover crops, will attend a daylong workshop to learn about the NECCC and cover crop decision tool project (Jan. 2017).
- The 15 individuals from the states of NY, PA, and MD who attend the workshop will participate in ten three-hour teleconferences to modify the MCCC tool to meet the needs of stakeholders in their state (Jan.-Jun. 2017).
- The 15 individuals will beta test the online decision tool for their state (Oct.-Dec. 2017).
- 5 Extension educators, 5 agricultural industry representatives and 5 farmers who work with cover crops, from DE, ME, MA, NJ, NH, and VT (90 total), will attend daylong workshops to learn about the NECCC and cover crop decision tool project (Jan. – Feb. 2018).
- The 15 individuals from each of the states who attend the workshop will participate in eight three-hour teleconferences per state to modify the MCCC tool to meet the needs of stakeholders in their state (Jan.-Jun. 2018).
- The 90 individuals will beta-test the online decision tool for each of their states (Oct.-Dec. 2018).
- Once the NY, PA, and MD state cover crop decision tools are online in Jan. 2018, the 15 individuals who helped modify the tool will help the project team conduct a minimum of one train-the-trainer session in each state where a total of 20 agricultural service providers and 45 farmers will learn about the decision tool and related resources for use with farmer clients. These sessions will be held at already-established field days or workshops (e.g., the Queen Anne’s County Organic Production Workshop in MD; the Big Flats Cover Crop and Soil Health Workshop and Tour in NY) (Jan.-Dec. 2018).
- 45 additional agricultural service providers and 30 additional farmers in NY, PA and MD will learn about the decision tool and related resources at a minimum of one field day or interactive workshop per state created specifically to showcase the NECCC and tool (Jan.-Dec. 2018).
- 15 agricultural service providers and 15 farmers will learn about the tool and related resources at a session during the annual NECCC meeting (Feb. 2018).
- Milestones 1-3 will be repeated for the states of DE, ME, MA, NJ, NH, and VT; a total of 270 agricultural service providers and 300 farmers will learn about the decision tool and related resources via presentations, workshops and field days in each state (Jan.-Dec. 2019).
- Prior to the activities in milestones 1-3 in each state, all agricultural service providers will be advised of the need for verification and requested to provide their name, email address, and affiliation to enable follow-up surveying. They will also receive a log to record the number of farmers that they advise using our tool and related information. Six to nine months after each field day or workshop, the agricultural service providers will receive and respond to a follow-up survey requesting verification data about the number of farmers they advised (ongoing Nov. 2018-Aug. 2020).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
10300 Baltimore Ave
Beltsville, Maryland 20705
10300 Baltimore Ave
Beltsville, Maryland 20705