Adoption of Cover Crops to Build Soil Health in the Northern Plains (Continuation)

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $29,488.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2020
Grant Recipient: North Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, hay, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage), soybeans, sunflower


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Soil Management: earthworms, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: social capital, social networks


    Historically, farmers in the northern Great Plains have felt that cover crops “do not fit” in their rotation primarily because of a short growing season. After several open winters with rampant soil erosion and an national focus on soil health, the mind-set of farmers in the region is changing and they are more willing to make adjustments to management approaches used on-farm.  In 2015, four research/demonstration sites were established throughout eastern North Dakota using a SARE Partnership grant.  Those demonstration projects were wrapped up in 2019, however, not without some challenges in the final years of the project.  Field conditions for three of the four sites were extremely wet during harvest in 2018, planting and harvest in 2019.  Modifications to on-farm demonstrations were put in place - for example, using cover crops only on areas accessible to equipment or switching fields to still be able to show successful establishment of cover crops on accessible fields.  The focus from on-farm field days during at time when farmers experienced limited available time to attend a field day also switched to winter meeting support in the form of Cafe Talks discussion-based meetings (winter 2018, 2019) and inclusion/support of farmer panels at the Dakota Innovation Research and Technology (DIRT) Workshop  ( in December 2019.  The Soil Sense Podcast ( was also developed to provide information on cover crop adoption and collaboration amongst farmers, consultants, research and Extension in the northern plains.  Over the course of the project, face-to-face Extension programs held on-site and at related locations have reached 4,500 attendees and on-line development of videos and the podcast with over 185,000 plays from an international audience.  

    Project objectives:

    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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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).
    4. Develop on-line resources, such as videos, podcast, digital booklets, to be available to a larger audience. (new objective implemented because of challenging field conditions starting in 2018).


    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.