Bringing the Benefits of Legume Cover Crops to Northern Midwest Climates

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $114,497.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Minnesota
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Julie Grossman
University of Minnesota

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Vegetables: sweet corn


  • Crop Production: cover crops, organic fertilizers
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Project objectives:

    Learning outcome 1: Growers will learn if application of nitrogen fixing rhizobia inoculant is necessary with selected cover crop ecotypes. We will characterize nodule occupants among the cover crop varieties in Y1. Mature plants will then be evaluated for nodulation, total biomass N, nitrogen fixed, and rhizobia occupancy.

    Learning outcome 2:  Growers will learn basic soil ecological principles to help them manage legume cover crops for optimal function and performance. Blending farmer needs with available data on cover crop biology and soil science, we will develop two hands-on workshops including evidence-based responses to grower knowledge needs. Workshops will be taught as part of grower conferences in the region (i.e. MOSES, Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota Annual Conference) in the final year of the project.

    Action outcome 1:  At least 25 farmers will plan to use a legume cover crop in their farming operation in the three years following project termination. To conduct the formative evaluation, surveys will be provided to workshop attendees and undergraduate course attendees that ask about the degree to which these offerings were useful, met their needs, and what additional questions they still have. Additionally, in the months following the workshops, attendees will again be surveyed and asked to rate their knowledge about utilizing cover crops and the degree to which they are utilizing (farmers) or recommending (those who work with farmers) such practices. Those farmers who identify having most successfully implemented these approaches will be interviewed by phone to understand how and why they were able to engage in these practices. (i.e., what were drivers of their success).

    Action outcome 2: At least 60 students will be exposed to examples of legume cover crop use. To meet this action outcome we will develop 4-8 media-rich online case studies showcasing exemplary growers who use cover crops in the North Central SARE region, and highlighting both their successes and challenges in using cover crops. Dr. Grossman will be leading a course in biological principles for use in organic farm management as part of the University of Minnesota’s recently developed Food Systems major, and the development of the case studies dovetails beautifully with this new and innovative program. The case studies will be developed as a course assignment for Dr. Grossman’s class in Y1 and Y2 of the grant, with students conducting all interviews, taking video footage, editing, and developing study questions to be part of the case-study package.

    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.