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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #328893

Research Project: Defining Agroecological Principles and Developing Sustainable Practices in Mid-Atlantic Cropping Systems

Location: Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Title: Organic and conventional farmers differ in their perspective on cover crop use and breeding

Author
item Wayman, Sandra - Cornell University - New York
item Kucek, Lisa - Cornell University - New York
item Mirsky, Steven
item Ackroyd, Victoria - North Carolina State University
item Cordeau, Stephanie - Universite De Bourgogne
item Ryan, Matthew - Cornell University - New York

Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/24/2016
Publication Date: 10/3/2016
Citation: Wayman, S., Kucek, L.K., Mirsky, S.B., Ackroyd, V., Cordeau, S., Ryan, M.R. 2016. Organic and conventional farmers differ in their perspective on cover crop use and breeding. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 32:376-385.

Interpretive Summary: Cover crops play an important role in agricultural sustainability. Unlike commodity cash crops, however, there has been relatively little cover crop germplasm research and development. We conducted an online survey to evaluate a) the perspectives of organic and conventional farmers in the United States who use cover crops and b) the specific cover crop traits that are important to farmers. Of the 417 full responses received, 69% of respondents were organic and 31% conventional. Nitrogen fixation was considered the most important trait while for legumes; winter hardiness, early vigor, biomass production, and weed suppression were the most important traits for cereals. Organic and conventional farmers generally responded similarly in their rating of cover crop traits. However, 18% more organic faremrs were willing to spend up to 75$/acre for cover crop seed. Our results illustrate common interests as well as differences in the views between organic and conventional farmers on cover crops and illuminate which cover crop traits farmers consider important for breeding efforts. Results from the survey provide insight into the practical challenges of growing cover crops and the traits that farmers believe to be important to inform cover crop breeding efforts. This paper will provide further support for developing cover crop breeding programs and educate organizations that fund cover crop research on the interest and importance of cover crop breeding.

Technical Abstract: Cover crops play an important role in agricultural sustainability. Unlike commodity cash crops, however, there has been relatively little cover crop germplasm research and development. We conducted an online survey to evaluate a) the perspectives of organic and conventional farmers in the United States who use cover crops and b) the specific cover crop traits that are important to farmers. We collected demographic data, information on farmer management practices, and farmer perspectives on winter annual cover crop traits. Of the 417 full responses received, 87% of respondents reported that they used cover crops. We recruited participants from both organic and conventional agriculture networks, with a slight emphasis on organic; 69% of respondents reporting that they farmed organic land. Overall, respondents represented a wide diversity of states, farm sizes, plant hardiness zones, and cash crops produced. Results from the survey provide insight into the practical challenges of growing cover crops and the traits that farmers believe to be important to inform cover crop breeding efforts. For the legume cover crops, N fixation was considered the most important trait while for cereal rye, winter hardiness, early vigor, biomass production, and weed suppression were the most important. Organic and conventional farmers generally responded similarly in their rating of cover crop traits. Respondents reported strong support for cover crop research. For example, 74% of conventional farmers and 72% of organic farmers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “More research should be conducted on cover crop breeding and variety improvement”. The maximum amount farmers were willing to spend on cover crop seed varied by farmer type: 1% of conventional farmers vs. 19% of organic farmers were willing to spend over $185/ha ($75/acre). Our results illustrate common interests as well as differences in the views between organic and conventional farmers on cover crops and illuminate which cover crop traits farmers consider important for breeding efforts.