Utilizing cover crops for additional benefits in Delaware

2016 Annual Report for ONE16-280c

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

Utilizing cover crops for additional benefits in Delaware


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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.

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).


Initial planning meeting was held in early October.  Participants represented University of Delaware Extension and Research, Delaware State University Extension, Sussex County Conservation District, USDA-NRCS, as well as Jennifer Nelson.  We had a general discussion of intended cover crop projects for the fall 2016/spring 2017.  Sussex Conservation District is planning a spring outreach meeting on cover crops.  The group decided to use this meeting as a focal point for the meeting and explored ways to incorporate other research/demonstration/outreach to expand this meeting.

A second planning meeting is scheduled early in 2017 to finalize plans based on success of fall planting and cover crop establishment.  Furthermore, Delaware Ag Week will be held in mid-January and participants will be surveyed for specific topics they would like to see discussed at a spring meeting.


Fall 2016: initial meeting of interested individuals (team members, research, extension, agency, and farmers) to discuss ongoing projects and potential sites for spring demonstrations.  Two specific sites for these demonstrations and field days will be decided at this initial meeting.

Initial meeting was held and sites were discussed.  A second meeting is planned for early winter to finalize plans and sites based on successful establishment of the cover crops.

Fall 2016:  Coordinate with cooperating farmers, where the delayed termination demonstrations will be held and prepare for spring management.

Four farmers have been approached at potential sites for demonstration of delayed cover crop termination.  The sites are at various locations through out Delaware to allow growers from different parts to observe the sites.  Final sites used for the spring meetings will be decided in the spring based on cover crop stand, growers’ final planting decisions, and input from the project coordinator.

Winter 2016-2017:  Two workshops will be held for farmers, 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, organized by project coordinator.  This will be an indoor, classroom-style training.


Spring 2017:  Delayed termination demonstrations are implemented at the location identified in the Fall 2016, and a field day will be held.  Spring is typically a difficult time to coordinate field days since farmers are busy with planting, so we will target only one spring field day for the initial year.   Early versus late termination timings, new equipment such as the Air Seeder and ZRX™ cover crop roller/crimper from Dawn Biologics, results from ongoing replicated field trials and other aspects of cover crops will be demonstrated and discussed. Project coordinator will be responsible for coordinating the demonstrations and promoting the field days.


Summer 2017:  Planning for fall projects, building upon the success of the spring sessions.  This will be more in-depth demonstrations since planning and implementing them will occur prior to planting fall cover crops. 


Fall 2017:  Cover crop demonstrations will be established at two sites.  The primary focus of these demonstrations will be delayed termination, but other educational demonstrations about cover crop techniques such as different species and seeding rates; comparison of seeding dates; comparison of seeding methods.  Experiences with the field day in the spring of 2017 will be considered in selecting the specific locations as well as the specific topics. The project coordinator will work with farmers as described earlier to establishment commercial-scale strip demonstrations to evaluate delayed termination, utility of the Air-Seeder, and cash crop planting strategies. 


Winter 2017-2018:  Project coordinator finalizes writing and/or editing of three Newsletter articles and releases them for publication.


Spring 2018:  Two field-walk visits of the demonstration sites established the previous fall to view the cover crop development and discuss ideas and opportunities with spring management of the cover crops.  These will be conducted by the project coordinator. 


Fall 2018:  Follow up survey of the participants on their use of cover crops on their farms and their intentions for cover crop management in the spring of 2019.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

At this point, we do not have impacts or outcomes to report


Jennifer Nelson

Resource Smart
PO Box 86
Greenwood, Delaware 19950
Debbie Absher

Sussex Conservation District
21315 Berlin Road, Unit 4
Georgetown, Delaware 19947
John Clendaniel

Delaware State University
1200 N. DuPont Highway
Dover, Delaware 19901
Jayme Arthurs

1221 College Park Drive, Suite 100
Dover, Delaware 19904