Adaption of Cover Crops to Build Soil Health in the Northern Plains

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $27,021.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2017
Grant Recipient: NDSU
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: barley, rye, soybeans, wheat


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Producers in the Northern Plains, specifically North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota, struggle with the incorporation of cover crops into rotations because of a short growing season and limited, regionally-specific information. To compound the issue, there is a desperate need to manage the extensive salinity issues in this region brought upon by a 20 year wet cycle and shift in management to shorter growing season crop rotations. Producers in this area estimate that 15- 35% of their cropland is impacted by salinity, drastically reducing yields and degrading soil health. The current management approach used by a majority of producers in the region is “business as usual” with excessive fall and spring tillage and planting of non-salt tolerant crops – the exact opposite of what needs to happen. A recommended management approach to combat the issue is to use water with cropping systems to drive the salts deeper into the soil profile. Using an early season, more salt-tolerant crop, such as a small grain, followed by a cover crop will increase the duration of “something growing and using water” by up to four months. Additionally, the lengthened growing season improves our ability to build soil health and develop more sustainable agronomic systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      1. Collect regionally-specific data throughout the northern and southern Red River Valley on the effectiveness of various cover crop mixes following small grains using replicated plots.


      1. Demonstrate the use of various cover crop mixes using full-scale plots installed by partnering producers in close proximity to other established salinity demonstration locations.


      1. Increase education opportunities by demonstrating additional practices for salinity management and opportunities for improving soil health to an already existing framework of demonstration sites that have well attended annual field days (attendance has ranged from 45 to 135 for field days at the four demonstration locations).


    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.