Increasing the Sustainability of Blueberry Production with Cover Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $396,364.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipients: University of Georgia; Southwest Georgia Project
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Zilfina Rubio Ames
University of Georgia
Felicia Burke
Southwest Georgia Project
Dr. Mark Czarnota
University of Georgia
Dr. Sharon Kane
University of Georgia
Dr. Anish Malladi
University of Georgia


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

The constant use of chemical fertilizer
reduces soil health and quality, which in turn affects plant
development, lowers productivity, increases susceptibility to
pests and diseases, and decreases fruit quality. The goal of this
project is to implement the use of cover crops in blueberry
production. Despite the known benefits of cover crops, blueberry
growers in the southeast have not yet incorporated cover crops
into their production system. The use of cover crops is limited
by the low soil pH and lack of knowledge regarding the management
of cover crops in a warm and humid environment. The benefits of
cover crops, which include increased soil organic matter, reduced
erosion, weed suppression, and enhanced nutrient availability,
are long known; however, their benefits for blueberry production
in general and for southeastern blueberry production in
particular remain understudied.

Our project brings together a
multidisciplinary team of scientists, extension specialists, and
community organizations, which allows us to study the impact of
cover crops from a whole systems perspective. In the first year,
we will seek growers’ input by establishing a grower advisory
board to help us identify cover crops that best fit blueberry
production. We will establish a greenhouse experiment to identify
the species of cover crops best suited for low pH conditions.
Then, we will conduct on-farm trials across five locations in
South Georgia to test the implementation of cover crops. We will
strategically place this location in each of the largest
producing counties. We will measure the impact of cover crops on
soil quality and plant growth, yield, and weed 
Additionally, production costs will be quantified to develop a
cost-effective analysis of the use of cover crops. The analysis
will focus on the financial benefits obtained in terms of
increased profits and quality of life of farmers in South
Georgia. The analysis will allow us to identify the environmental
and economic sustainability of using cover crops. In the third
year, we will work with the UGA extension and community
organizations to promote the results of our research and the
incorporation of cover crops in blueberry systems. We will
develop workshops, field days, as well as agent and grower
training materials. We expect that our collaboration with
community organizations, small and minority grower’s involvement,
will assure the adoption of cover crops by blueberry growers in
the state of Georgia. Thus, a large number of blueberry producers
will implement the use of cover crops, making the blueberry
production system more sustainable.

Project objectives from proposal:

Our overall objective is to incorporate cover crops in blueberry
production systems. Our specific objectives include:

Objective 1. Identify suitable cover crops for blueberry
production system in Georgia.

Objective 2. Develop the best management practices for the
incorporation of cover crops in blueberry production system.

Objective 3. Determine the impact of cover crops in soil
physicochemical properties.

Objective 4. Develop educational materials and promote the
adoption of cover crops.

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.