This project entitled Summer Cover Crop System Management: New options for upper Midwest vegetable systems, improves grower knowledge of summer cover crop use, including species selection, seeding rate, planting date, and impact of growing season length. Growers are increasingly interested in adding cover crops to rotations to improve soil health, break disease cycles, and provide ecosystem services. However, identifying appropriate timing is challenging. Growers must balance cash crop goals and timing with limited availability of labor, land, and equipment. Summer cover crops are an often overlooked and minimally researched option for growers in the Upper Midwest.
This farmer-driven project will engage minority farmers to provide data on summer cover crop management systems in collaboration with UMN researchers. Objectives include to 1) Identify summer cover crop management best suited for north central growers, 2) Determine nitrogen derived from legume cover crops, including management to maximize fertility provision, and 3) Develop cover crop legume resources for immigrant and minority farmers. Growers will evaluate three cover crop species, each at high and low planting density and two planting dates. Plant biomass, weed biomass, and soil will be tested at key crop management timepoints to quantify timing of plant available nitrogen, potential for nitrogen loss via leaching, cover crop productivity, and weed suppression capacity. Farmer evaluation of cover crops will provide additional qualitative data on ease of management and effectiveness of cover cropping systems. This knowledge aligns directly with SARE tenets by allowing farmers to more profitably and confidently include cover crops in seasonal rotations, improving nitrogen management for cash crops following summer cover crops, and reducing nitrogen losses that can lead to environmental degradation. Reductions in off-farm nitrogen purchase may also lead to improvements in farm economics.
Results will be shared through print fact sheets, web resources, relevant newsletters and at grower meetings and 2 grower-led field days.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective 1: Identify summer cover crop management best suited for north central growers. Learning outcome: 100 growers learn improved summer cover management. Action Outcome: 10 growers increase cover crop use.
Objective 2: Quantify nitrogen derived from legume covers, including identification of management strategies to maximize fertility provision. Learning outcome: 5 educators/researchers learn to maximize nitrogen provided by cover crops. Action outcome: Educators develop and distribute recommendations to 200 farmers.
Objective 3: Develop resources for immigrant and minority farmers. Learning outcome: 50 growers learn management to maximize nitrogen. Action outcome: Growers reduce off-farm nitrogen inputs, expense, and negative environmental impacts.