Cover Crops and Cropping System Sustainability in a Changing Global Climate

Project Overview

LS20-335
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $299,995.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Middle Tennessee State University; University of Kentucky; Auburn University
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Samuel Haruna
Middle Tennessee State University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Song Cui
Middle Tennessee State University
Dr. Audrey Gamble
Auburn University
Dr. Seockmo Ku
Middle Tennessee State University
Dr. Chaney Mosley
Middle Tennessee State University
Dr. Edwin Ritchey
University of Kentucky

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Improving crop productivity and cropping systems resilience in a changing global climate is a big challenge for governments, scientists and producers around the world. The challenge is exacerbated, due to the predicted 17% human population increase and 0.7 – 1.8°C temperature increase by 2050. Rising temperatures may affect the soil ecosystem services, crop productivity and agricultural and environmental sustainability. Thus, it is imperative to identify soil and crop management practices that are less sensitive or more adaptive to climate change. The adoption of cover crops has been encouraged, through various agricultural policies, due to their benefits in enhancing soil quality and health, crop productivity and environmental sustainability. Here, we propose that, in addition to these benefits, cover crops can improve the resilience of cropping systems in a variable climate.  Thus, the goal of this project is to evaluate the influence of cover crops on in situ soil thermal properties and how these may influence crop productivity and agricultural resilience in a changing climate. This goal will be achieved through a multi-disciplinary approach with the following objectives; 1) investigate the interaction between cover crops and soil health indicators on in situ measured soil thermal properties, 2) assess the role of cover crops and in situ measured soil thermal properties on microbial population [gram (+) bacteria, gram (-) bacteria, arbuscular mycorrhizae, actinomycetes, rhizobia, and protozoa] and activity and on greenhouse gas emission, 3) evaluate the interaction between cover crops, soil thermal properties, microbial activity and crop yield, and 4) disseminate research findings through training and extension services. This project is unique because it will be the first project to actively investigate the role of cover crops on in situ measured soil thermal properties and how this can affect both environmental and agricultural sustainability. The proposed project is relevant to the goals of Southern SARE Systems Research because it will explore the interrelationship among soil thermal properties, rhizobacterial and mycorrhizal activity, greenhouse gas emissions, soil health indicators and crop yield. This project will also promote collaboration between researchers and farmers, and enhance the participation of students in sustainable agricultural research across various institutions in the Southern US. Furthermore, the proposed project has the potential to improve producer adoption of environmentally sustainable practices through active engagement of farmers in research planning, soil sample collection and analysis, and by demonstrating complementary improved economic benefits as well.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Investigate the interaction between cover crops and soil health indicators (bulk density, soil pH, soil organic carbon, soil water content, soil water infiltration) on in situ measured soil thermal properties (thermal conductivity, volume-specific heat capacity, thermal diffusivity) (farmers will be involved with sensor installation and soil sample collection). Learning Outcome: participating farmers learn the philosophies behind soil sample collection for scientific and agronomic purposes and the mechanisms through which cover crops may help buffer against extreme soil temperature change. Action Outcome: Growers increase cover crop use to improve soil health and buffer against extreme soil temperature change,
    2. Assess the role of cover crops and in situ measured soil thermal properties on microbial (gram (+) bacteria, gram (-) bacteria, arbuscular mycorrhizae, actinomycetes, rhizobia, and protozoa) population and activity and on greenhouse gas (CO2, CH4, N2O) emissions with the help of farmers. Learning Outcome: 7 researchers, farmers and educators learn to optimize microbial activity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through cover crop usage. Action Outcome: Researchers and educators develop guidelines on incorporating cover crops for reduced greenhouse gas emissions,
    3. Evaluate the interaction between cover crops, soil thermal properties, microbial activity and crop yield (farmers will be trained on the use of UAS for yield monitoring). Learning Outcome: 20 farmers learn to use UAS for crop yield monitoring. Action Outcome: 10 farmers integrate technology for yield monitoring.
    4. Educate local producers on benefits of using cover crops to improve productivity and enhance cropping systems resilience. Disseminate research findings, with farmer input, through training and extension services. Learning outcome: 60 farmers in 3 states (Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky) learn to improve crop productivity through proper management of cover crops. Action Outcome: Educators organize farmer-led field days and distribute recommendations on climate-conscious cover cropping for improved productivity and environmental resilience.
    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.