Sustainable Vegetable Production: Screening Cover Crops for Water Use Efficiency

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $118,411.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Daniel Drost
Utah State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, networking
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, precision herbicide use
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    In numerous discussions with Utah’s farmers, growers want to use more cover crops to enhance soil organic matter levels and fertility while improving water holding capacity. Most growers are familiar with the known benefits of cover crops. These include, nutrient cycling and recovery such that leaching is minimized, the potential to reduce erosion, suppress weeds, and help improve soil organic matter content. However, these same farmers state that cover crops interfere with potential crop rotations, particularly in areas with short growing seasons, may deplete soil water content to the point where crop establishment is compromised in areas with limited winter precipitation, fail to adequately decompose to release stored nutrients if left on the soil surface, and most are uncertain as to the best timing for planting, incorporation, and how they may influence the growth of their primary cash crops.
    We propose to use a combination of on-farm demonstrations and targeted grower based research and more traditional replicated research station trials to assess various grass (small grains and grasses), legume (clovers, peas, beans, vetches etc) and non-legume (buckwheat, brassica. etc) cover crops for water use efficiency while optimizing biomass productivity.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The specific objectives are:
    1) To identify and evaluate winter cover crops that can help improve early plant establishment (reducing wind erosion effects and soil crusting) while minimizing interference with plant growth and soil water storage while contributing to better farm nutrient management and soil quality;
    2) To identify and evaluate summer cover crops that can help improve nutrient cycling and late season weed management while minimizing water requirements needed to establish the cover crop;
    3) To conduct these studies in a variety of different climatic conditions (regional within Utah), with different vegetable crops (cucurbits, tomatoes, corn, other crops) and cropping systems (organic and non-organic);
    4) To disseminate this information to Utah’s farmers, service agencies, and other potential user groups at farm field days, through print and electronic media and at state, regional and national meetings. These are many of the issues outlined as important to our grower cooperators.

    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.