Multi-species cover crops provide numerous conservation benefits, but documenting the successes and failures is important as an educational process. Cover crops can be planted in a timely manner, allowed to accumulate biomass and nitrogen, and be terminated without tillage to maximize soil health benefits. Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a living ecosystem. Soil functions with the use of cover crops is improve by: minimizing soil disturbance, increasing plant and animal diversity above-ground to enhance soil biodiversity, keeping a living root growing year-round, and keeping residue cover on the surface as long as possible. Cover crop systems improve soil microbial activity, increase nutrient cycling, mitigate against drought and pests, and increase profits over time. We want to be able to document these changes in this participatory network framework. Once producers understand these principles, the obstacles of putting them into practice is overcome.
The project is an ongoing effort with the first demonstration plot started in 2013 and more demonstration plots added each year. The Southern SARE Education Grant funds will be used to maintain six demonstration plots in winter 2018 and support field days and outreach efforts in 2019.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Engage North Carolina producers in soil health benefits of multi-species cover crops.
- Quantify short-term changes in soil chemical, physical, and biological properties as a result of using multi-species cover crops in various no-till and reduced till production systems across the three physiographic regions of North Carolina.
- Refine best management practices for multi-species cover crops in production systems common to North Carolina and neighboring states in the region.
- Promote soil health improvement from use of multi-species cover crops in North Carolina and the Southeast to increase agricultural sustainability.