Utilizing cover crops for additional benefits in Delaware

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,111.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Delaware
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
Mark VanGessel
University of Delaware

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Cover crops have been widely adopted in Delaware, largely as a result of USDA-NRCS/Conservation Districts cost share programs.  Growers can receive up to $106.28/A based on financial assistance program, watershed, planting dates, planting method, and termination dates.  The objective of these programs is water quality, with the cover crops preventing the leaching and off-site movement of nutrients, and recycling them for the next grain crop.  The cover crops in the cost-share program can be terminated after March 15th, and most farmers will terminate their cover crop by early April.  However, this is before the rapid vegetative growth phase of the cover crops.  Delaware farmers are very familiar with cover crops and a large percentage of growers are taking advantage of cover crops.  The challenge for our team is to encourage farmers to allow their cover crops to grow later into the spring and realize the additional advantages that can be achieved with the additional growth.

    The other challenge facing Delaware is the coordination of activities.  There has been a large effort from Cooperative Extension (both Delaware State University and University of Delaware), university researchers, USDA-NRCS, and conservation districts involving cover crops and soil health, but there has been little effort to link these projects for a coordinated outreach effort. 

    At a meeting on March 11, 2016, with five local farmers who have a keen interest in expanding their use of cover crops on their farms, there was discussion of what type of events/information/training was likely to have the most impact.  Field-based sessions were more likely to be successful, but the challenges for scheduling such events and trainings was also discussed.  The opportunity of holding more “farm-walks” has the potential to increase participation, but this further highlights the need for better coordination of agency/extension/research to maximize on-going projects.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is to demonstrate the benefit of later termination timing of cover crop and the most current information for cover crop management specific to Delaware.  A project coordinator will provide better outreach integration across projects and agencies.  In addition, a project coordinator will organize and hold outreach activities at demonstration sites throughout the season.

    Project activities

    1. Proposed demonstrations:

    Field projects will utilize research projects conducted in the region, targeted for Delaware conditions.  Numerous research projects have been conducted in Delaware examining cover crops for various objectives, such as nutrient management, weed suppression, and disease management.  Specific topics being addressed include seeding rates, termination timing, species selection, and seeding method.  These projects will provide a research-base to address local recommendations for Delaware.

    Participants (team members, extension/research personnel from University of Delaware and Delaware State University, and farmers) will meet to discuss when and where it would be most efficient to establish delayed termination demonstrations and hold field days.  Locations will be based on logistics of moving equipment as well as to include different regions of the state (different counties).  The most current information on cover crop mixtures and seeding rates will also be highlighted at these demonstration sites.

    Three demonstrations for delayed termination timing (one in Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 and two in Fall 2017) will be established on commercial farms with cooperating growers interested in cover crops.  Demonstrations will be of 3 to 5 strips in commercial fields; with each strip on the scale 30 to 60 feet wide and 500 to 1000 feet long.  Cooperating growers will plant the terminated strips with their equipment and provide feedback on their experiences.  Project coordinator will work with the farmers to arrange planting the demonstration plots (cover crop), timing of termination, and planting the cash crop. Extension and research personnel will collect appropriate data from the demonstrations, such as cover crop establishment, amount of biomass produced, presence (or severity) of insect or slug infestations, weed densities, soil moisture levels, crop stands, early-season crop vigor etc.  In addition, the project coordinator will work with individual researchers or extension specialists to establish small plot demonstrations addressing cover crop species and seeding rates.

    2. Educational activities:

    Also over the past two years, farmers that are considered early adopters of soil health practices have volunteered to hold field days on their farm.  The project coordinator will allow for follow-up events at the established demonstration sites throughout the growing season that otherwise would not occur.  Viewing and discussing the demonstrations at a specific time often does not “tell the whole story” because growth and development of the cover crop is not static.  The coordinator will have additional field days or “walks” and maintain the signs and on-site literature (for plot description) to allow farmers to see the demonstrations/cover crops at various stages of development.

    Peer to peer conversations and farm panels at workshops have been very popular, sparking interesting dialogue among participants in the field days and workshops.  Bringing in experts from other areas that have shared their experiences has been interesting as well.  This proposal will include sharing information with farmers about new technology in regards to soil health and cover crops.

    Specifically, the project coordinator will:

    1. Organize and host two workshop for farmers held [one associated with Delaware Ag Week (state-wide event) and one in Georgetown, DE] to learn about soil health and the benefits of cover crops in winter 2016-2017.
    2. Work with farmers to establish three delayed termination on-farm demonstration sites (one in Fall 2016 and two in 2017).
    3. Organize and host field days – one in fall 2016 (or spring of 2017 depending on logistics) and at least two in the fall of 2017, at sites selected for delayed termination demonstration sites.
    4. Organize and host two farmer-to-farmer field walks at the farms of early adopter who are hosting the delayed termination demonstration sites used above (c.).
    5. Maintain signs and literature at the sites mentioned above (such as project goals, plot description, management tactics) that will allow for famers to revisit the sites on their own.
    6. Write three timely articles per year (or solicit these articles from other team members). The articles will be published in a range of current newsletters, such as the Weekly Crop Update (published weekly from April through September by UD Extension) and Crossroads (the quarterly newsletter by the Sussex Conservation District).

    3. Methods to assess farmers' learning and intentions:

    Participants will be encouraged to complete surveys at all events that will ask about current cover crop use and their intentions for cover crop use in the future.  Surveys will also ask about farmers’ concerns and constraints to expanding their use of cover crops.  A final, on-line survey will be developed and distributed to all farmers who participated in the field days over the course of this grant to determine their changes in cover crop utilization.

    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.