Division of Agriculture researchers receive grant for cover crop study
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Aug. 4, 2017
- 3-year demonstration project to study cover crop effects on four farms
- Benefits include retained nitrogen, reduced soil evaporation
- Cover crop use common in Midwest, relatively uncommon in Arkansas
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JONESBORO, Ark. – Researchers with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture will study the efficacy of using cover crops in reducing growers’ nitrogen fertilizer needs, retaining soil moisture, and growing profit margins during a three-year demonstration scheduled to begin this fall.
Steven Green, Professor of Soil and Water Conservation at Arkansas State University, who has a research appointment with the Division of Agriculture, is the primary investigator for the three-year project, formally titled “Integration of Cover Crops in Arkansas and Delta Row Crop Systems.” Green and his fellow researchers were awarded a grant for more than $317,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Green said that only a small percentage of Arkansas growers use cover crops between growing seasons, a situation he says is rooted both in skepticism about the cost-effectiveness of the practice and simple aesthetic traditions.
“There are a lot of farmers who don’t want to use cover crops because the seed costs money, the extra herbicide costs money — they think there are all these extra costs,” Green said. “Additionally, we have a very strong tradition of plowing up our fields. Our farmers like to see a nice, clean-looking field, and to them, clean is a bare field. So that’s part of the issue — there’s a tradition of high-disturbance tillage in this state.
“Our intent is to document all the economic benefits, as well as the costs, of growing cover crops in these systems,” he said.
The project’s three objectives are to determine the amount of surplus nitrogen retained in the soil in the presence of cover crops, to determine how much less irrigation is required as a result of the cover crops’ effect on evaporation, and to determine the economic benefit of reduced input costs for nitrogen fertilizer and water irrigation.
Green’s research team will also include Joe Massey, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service; Mark Jordan, an Agricultural Economics instructor at ASU and executive director of LEAP Market Analytics; and Chris Henry, an irrigation specialist and assistant professor for the Division of Agriculture.
Green said the project will involve a mixture of cover crops, including cereal rye, winter peas, black oat, turnips and others. The participating growers typically grow corn, soybean, cotton and row-irrigated rice, he said.
The demonstration project will be carried out on four privately-owned farms throughout northeast Arkansas, ranging in size from 2,500 acres to 9,000 acres. The producers running these farms have already been using cover crops in their rotations for at least four years each, Green said.
“It’s not that they’re ‘playing with cover crops’ to see what they’ll do,” he said. “They are totally committed to using cover crops. They’ve said that they’re making more money — that it’s more profitable to be using more cover crops.”
To learn about cover crops in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service