Project to examine effect of cover crops
QUEENSTOWN, Md. (Feb. 27, 2018) — A research project to explore the economic and environmental impact of the use of multi-species cover crops has been awarded a $31,900 grant from the Harry Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology.
The project will be undertaken by the Maryland Association of Conservation District and coordinated by MASCD executive director Lindsay Thompson.
She said five research sites will be established, presumably on farms, scattered across the state and the project should get underway this coming fall, after harvest.
Cover crops using primarily small grains, have been standard procedure for Maryland farmers for many years,
The MASCD research, Thompson said, would involve planting small grains coupled, for example, with legumes such as clover and forage radish.
There is a body of research, she said, which supports the use of multi-species cover crops. It suggests that the practice can increase organic matter in the soil, reduce compaction and increase the soil’s water holding ability. The MASCD research hopes to demonstrate those results on Maryland’s various soil types.
The Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost Share program has been funding traditional, nitrogen sequestering cover crops for farmers for many years. Cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from a preceding summer crop and work during the winter to prevent erosion.
In a news release, the Agro-Ecology Center noted that, while the benefits of these traditional cover crops to water quality have been proven and promoted for many years, the economic and soil health benefits of multi-species cover crops have not traditionally been highlighted through the cover crop program.
The proposal hypothesizes, the Hughes Center said, that there are economic, environmental and soil health benefits to be realized by farmers planting multispecies cover crops not solely intended for nitrogen uptake.
“By understanding how benefits like nutrient management and farm profitability can be optimized, Maryland farmers will continue their status as national leaders in conservation farming practices,” a Hughes Center spokesman wrote.
“There is more to cover cropping than just cereal rye. Monoculture grass is really just scratching the surface of what cover crops can do for Maryland agriculture,” said Steve Black, owner of Raemelton Farm and Hughes Center board member.
“By funding the project, the Hughes Center is showing its desire to look at the role of cover crops holistically, from their environmental services to their impact on the farm’s bottom line,” Black said.