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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Auburn, Alabama » Soil Dynamics Research » Research » Research Project #439040

Research Project: Enhancing the Sustainability of U.S. Cropping Systems through Cover Crops and an Innovative Information and Technology Network

Location: Soil Dynamics Research

Project Number: 6010-21600-002-003-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jan 1, 2021
End Date: Aug 31, 2023

1. Construct a national database to define how intrinsic factors (climate and soil), genetics, and management interact to affect cover crop performance. 2. Address knowledge gaps about how cover crop interact with abiotic and biotic factors influencing Nitrogen (N) and water availability in cropping systems. 3. Regionalize cover crop decision support and integrate an adaptive management component. 4. Use remote sensing and process-based modeling to determine the impact of cover crops on agronomics and ecosystem services under current and future climate scenarios. 5. Develop and information ecology network to integrate cover crop research and practice, and determine its efficacy as a theory of change and a mechanism to support integration of research and practice.

An existing project network of east coast on-farm sites (~70) evaluating short-term benefits of cover crops (CC) on nitrogen and water availability on ~ 70 eastern farm sites will be expanded by adding 51 farms in the central U.S. Cover crop and no-cover crop treatments are established in strips across the field (~18-36 m wide x length of field). Data will be collected from two subplots within each treatment to account for variability in cover crop biomass quality and quantity, decomposition, insects, slugs, disease, weeds, and yield. Soil water content (SWC) will be monitored in one of the two sub-plots. Farmers will make all decisions on fertilizers, herbicides, crop seed, and cover crop species selection allowing us to fully capture the interaction between management, genetics, soil, and climate. Only experienced cover crop farmers will be recruited to ensure good performance and representative practices. Farmers will participate for three years, providing 153 site-years where pest and disease will be monitored, and 363 site-years of water, nitrogen, and crop yield data (including recently funded work). A digital app will be used by farmers to document current and historical management. 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 U.S. 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.