Scientists from North Carolina State University are joining with others across the country to promote soil health by developing and helping farmers adopt new cover crops.
Made possible by a $2.2 million grant from Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the new $6.6 million research initiative aims to “to get new cover crop solutions into the hands of those who use them or will be using them,” according to Twain Butler, a research agronomist with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation who is leading the project.
In addition to scientists with the Noble Foundation and from land-grant universities like NC State, the project will involve representatives from the seed industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service and network of producers.
Researchers will use advanced breeding techniques – ones that have traditionally been limited to high-value row crops – to bring new and value-added characteristics to cover crops.
For example, in North Carolina, Dr. Chris Reberg-Horton of NC State will be considering ways to breed crops for such traits as allelopathy, the process by which a plant produces biochemicals that influence the growth, survival and reproduction of other plants.
The project will test three types of cover crops: small grains, such as wheat, rye, oat and triticale; annual legumes such as hairy vetch, winter peas and clovers; and brassicas, or turnips, radishes, kale and mustards.
As scientists develop new breeding lines, regional collaborators will evaluate their performance at five strategic sites throughout the country. In the southeast, the research will take place in North Carolina. Other sites are Maryland for the northeast, Oklahoma for the southern plains, Nebraska for the northern plains, and Missouri for the Midwest.