The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation has announced a $2.2 million grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research as part of a $6.6 million research partnership aimed at promoting soil health across the United States through the development and adoption of new cover crops.
"Cover crop" is a term applied to a number of species that farmers, ranchers, and landowners plant to help manage soil erosion, preserve moisture content, and control weeds and diseases.
To that end, the initiative will bring together representatives of the seed industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three land grant universities, and an existing legume cover crop breeding team to identify species with the greatest potential to improve soil health over a broad geography, with a focus on three groups: small grains (wheat, rye, oat, and triticale), annual legumes (hairy vetch, winter peas, and clovers), and brassicas (turnips, radishes, kale, and mustards). In addition, Noble Foundation scientists will utilize advanced breeding techniques — traditionally limited in application to high-value, row crops — to bring new and value-added characteristics to cover crops. To assist with evaluations, field trials will be conducted at sites in Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri.
Short-term goals of the project include identifying the best cover crop species and varieties currently available, promoting those crops to farmers and ranchers, and increasing effective options within the marketplace. Researchers also will share their results with the public through national meetings, peer-reviewed publications, and publicly accessible databases.
"The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is committed to improving the nation's soil health, which is essential to ensuring a productive and sustainable future for food and agriculture," said FFAR executive director Sally Rockey. "We look forward to working with the Noble Foundation and a talented team of researchers to develop better-than-ever, soil health-promoting cover crops that will contribute to thriving farms across the United States."