On Farm Research to Quantify the Value of Cover Crops for Nutrient Crediting

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2019
Grant Recipient: Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Spencer Herbert
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Aicam Laacouri
Minnesota Department of Agriculture


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans


  • Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, soil stabilization, carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health


    Final Report

    The topic of implementing cover crops and their benefits to soil health has been the focus of much research and discussion. This project engaged and supported three experienced farmers, currently using cover crops, to measure and quantify some of the benefits of cover crops in southern Minnesota. In addition to quantifying the benefits, project partners worked with farmers to share information with other local farmers. All three farmers, in partnership with their local conservation districts, are key members of the Freeborn County Soil Health Team. This Soil Health Team promotes beneficial soil health practices through field days, data collection, and outreach to other interested farmers in the area.

    The Minnesota Department of Agriculture lead this project in partnership with the NRCS (USDA-NRCS SSR-10, staff Myles Elsen) and local farmers representing the local soil health team (Freeborn, Mower and Steele Counties). The result of this two-year, multi-field project showed that the successful establishment of cover crops varies year to year and from field to field based on weather conditions and management practices where cereal rye and ryegrass are more likely to overwinter and scavenge soil N. Additionally, this study showed that cover crops do not impact cash crop yield and nitrogen availability for the cash crop. Lastly, cover crops seem to improve soil health, providing more microbial biomass and diversity.

    Project objectives:


    1. Monitor nutrient levels throughout the cover crop life cycle to establish a procedure for properly crediting cover crop nutrients for subsequent cropping years. If this can be done successfully, there is potential to reduce fertilizer inputs. Reduced fertilizer inputs would in turn save the farmer money and potentially reduce nutrient losses that are impacting water quality.
    2. Generate high quality data related to soil health and agronomic variables for this specific geographic area, soils, and climate.
    3. Provide education and outreach through field days, factsheets, handouts, etc. This will help local farmers make more informed management decisions regarding 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.