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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory » Research » Research Project #436413

Research Project: Cover Crops: The Cornerstone of Water Management in the Face of Increasing Demand and a Changing Climate

Location: Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-21660-005-049-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Aug 1, 2018
End Date: Jul 31, 2023

1. Quantify how on-farm management influences cover crop quantity/quality and the subsequent effects on water dynamics (green water use efficiency, blue water returns, irrigation needs) across the mid-Atlantic and southeastern U.S. 2. Calibrate and validate existing models that estimate water and cover crop decomposition dynamics. 3. Quantify and simulate how soil and cover crop management under current and future climates influence corn and soybean potential yield, stability, resilience, and economics in the mid-Atlantic and southeast. 4. Develop an outreach program, informed by our early adopter network of farmers, that identifies and overcomes misconceptions about the cost and value of cover crops. 5. Integrate research data into a policy education effort that will lead to improvements in the federal crop insurance program that will increase incentives for farmer adoption of risk management practices (no till, cover crops, diverse crop rotations).

ARS proposes to test and utilize new technologies that enable rapid, regional-scale assessment of cover crop performance and effects on water, cash crop yields, and net returns. We will undertake extensive model development to provide growers with location-specific cover crop decision-tools, as well as extrapolate the potential of cover crops in future climate scenarios. Empirical data used in this project will come from over 250 farmer fields throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern US. Farmer management will vary in order to fully capture the spectrum of management and interaction among management, soil, and climate. Recognizing that information-based strategies are insufficient for behavior change, we will address social factors affecting cover crop adoption, including grower perceptions of the risks and benefits of adopting cover crops and understanding of cover crop economics. The data developed in this work will then get incorporated into policy education efforts designed to address disincentives within the federal crop insurance program. Specifically: Use the latest generation of Time Domain Reflectance (TDR) water sensors, open-source hardware and software, and farmer-engaged on-farm trials to quantify cover crop performance, decomposition, and water dynamics throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern US. We will collect hourly soil moisture readings from plots with and without cover crops, cover crop residue quality measures (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and acid detergent fiber), decomposition bag measure of actual decomposition rates, soil nitrogen and textural analysis, and comprehensive meteorological data relevant to the residue decomposition and soil moisture models under study. Process-based models will use empirical data for model validation. Additonal studies will be conducted for model calibration. Crop modelers will examine the economics, yield, and yield stability throughout our regions and the role cover crops play in addressing food and water security.