Building Knowledge of Cover Cropping Techniques for Increased Adoption Rates

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $52,172.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Trina Walley
East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: cover crops, row covers (for season extension)
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: row covers (for pests), weed ecology
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The NRCS Plant Materials Center (CAPMC) in Lockeford, CA serves as a research and education center for sustainable farming
    practices for California. Over the past five years the PMC has emphasized studies with cover crops including three recent studies planned
    on winter season cover crops. With California’s myriad cropping systems and climatic zones, a conservationist can spend hours researching
    cover crops to make recommendations. PMC cannot replicate all of the situations that conservationists may encounter across the state but
    can provide local examples to turn to for models with this project. This project uses a “hub and spoke” approach to trainings and
    demonstrations for NRCS, University Extension and RCD conservationists throughout California. The first phase will provide formal
    workshop training at the PMC in cover crop selection and planting providing an opportunity to share research results from past and current
    studies conducted by the PMC. The second phase will be extension of knowledge to local areas, as past workshop participants collaborate
    with local farmers to demonstrate cover crop strategies in regionally-important cropping systems. These localized on-farm demonstration
    projects will in turn be used as education opportunities for professionals and growers in outreach workshops and field days. The purpose of
    this project is to 1) gain additional knowledge of cover crops applied to different cropping systems and climatic zones in California while 2)
    providing professional training for NRCS, University Extension and RCD conservationist. Increased awareness of cover crops will assist
    conservationist in recommending the practice for higher adoption rates in California.
    California agriculture has struggled with low adoption rates for soil health practices such as conservation tillage, cover
    crops, and irrigation/nutrient management. The Mediterranean climate, diverse cropping systems, and high-value specialty crops that are
    part of California agriculture create unique challenges for implementing the soil health systems that have been adopted in other parts of the
    United States. A recent study shows that agronomics, financial, and practice awareness are some of the barriers to adoption (Fazio 2008).
    The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that only 674,022 acres of the more than 25.5 million acres of California farmland, or
    2.6 %, had cover crops in 2012 (NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture). California produces over 400 agricultural crops commercially (CDFA,
    2015 Crop Report) and each of those cropping systems has specific opportunities and drawbacks for the use of cover crops. Drought
    conditions in the state and concern about water use by non-cash crops is also a deterrent as although winter cover crops increase infiltration
    during rainfall events, termination must be early enough to maintain soil moisture and will differ with location. Cover cropping is enjoying
    a resurgence in interest among farmers across the United States as they reduce inputs and increase profitability, promote soil health and
    drought resilience, sequester carbon. In California, specific knowledge of cover crop species, cultivation techniques, and management of
    cover crops in relationship to cash crops is often lacking. Cover crops can improve infiltration and water-holding capacity (USDA CAPMC,
    Smither-Kopperl & Borum 2016) and improve soil quality due to higher microbial biomass and less potential for nitrate leaching (Jackson
    2004). The NRCS CAPMC site will be used to demonstrate adaptation of cover crops and mixes, improvements to soil health, water
    relations, management, pests and diseases and termination. Training on cover crop technical assistance for NRCS, UC Cooperative
    Extension and Resource Conservation Districts, conservation professionals will be able to identify beneficial legumes, pollinator and
    cultivar cover crops that would work in their regions and learn about specific challenges. Participants in trainings will be able to apply
    knowledge of cover crops to local demonstration plots and tailor further trainings to the needs of their areas. Those demonstration plots will
    be used as a site for further regional trainings to reach additional conservation professionals as well as farmers interested in cover crops. The
    “hub and spoke” approach will help address the barriers for adoption of cover crops by sharing knowledge from research and demonstrating
    real world application in different cropping systems and climatic regions throughout California.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of this project is to increase knowledge of cover cropping techniques and impacts of water
    and soil quality in order to increase the adoption rate of the practice in California. To achieve this goal, the following objectives will be met:
    1. Spring 2018 statewide training to be held at the NRCS California Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, CA for conservationists and
    agriculture professionals. The objective of this training is to develop the technical knowledge of Natural Resources Conservation Service
    (NRCS), University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) personnel, Resource Conservation Districts and other agricultural
    professionals to understand and promote the use of cover crops to improve water and soil quality; training will include sections on cover
    crop choice, maturation dates and selection for mixtures, cover cropping for weed control, pollinators and beneficial insects, pest and
    disease implications, cover crop management and termination strategies. 2. Fall 2018 work with conservationists on implementing
    demonstration plots of cover cropping techniques learned at the CAPMC training regionally important cropping systems. The objective of
    these demonstrations is to develop regional training for agricultural professionals based on a “hub and spoke” model and further develop
    cover cropping techniques using CAPMC research results for use in the different crops and climatic regions of California; 3. Spring 2019
    hold regional trainings at demonstration sites established in the fall to provide access to additional conservationists not able to attend
    previous training as well as farmers and other agriculture professionals. The objective of these regional trainings is to provide hands-on
    educational events for NRCS, UCCE and RCD conservationists to understand and promote the use of cover crops to improve water and soil
    quality; training will include sections on cover crop choice, maturation dates and selection for mixtures, cover cropping for weed control,
    pollinators and beneficial insects, pest and disease implications, cover crop management and termination strategies. These regional
    trainings can be available to farmers and other members of the agricultural community.
    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.