NCDC215: Cover crops to improve environmental quality in grain and biofuel crop production systems in the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi basins.
Statement of Issues and JustificationAir, water, and soil quality are profoundly affected by agriculture. Depending upon agricultural production practices, these impacts can either support environmental health or undermine it in significant ways. Release of greenhouse gases, loss of soil carbon, degradation of water quality from excess nutrient and sediment runoff, and the potential for soil degradation resulting from crop residue removal for renewable bio-energy are all issues that will substantially influence the future structure and function of United States agricultural systems.
Contemporary research shows that winter cover crops, perennial crops, and other continuous living cover crops are agricultural innovations that can offset negative environmental impacts of some agricultural practices and contribute to a more sustainable production of grain crops and renewable energy. There are examples of cover crops reducing soil and nutrient movement to surface water, reducing nitrate leaching, and supplying substantial amounts of nitrogen to grain crops.
The expansion of grain crop production to marginal landscapes and the likelihood that agricultural residues will be harvested for cellulosic ethanol in the near future make the need for rapid development and implementation of appropriate alternative agricultural production systems imperative. We have a goal of incorporating cover crops on 30% of the 87 million acres currently used for grain production in the Midwest within 15 years. We believe that outreach and policy incentives based on sound, multistate, interdisciplinary research are needed to accomplish this goal.
The main objective of this NCDC is to bring together a critical mass of colleagues eager to develop cover crops systems and understand the role that they can play in economic and environmental viability of agriculture. Several individuals are currently researching cover crops, but most of us have not developed a critical mass of expertise on our campuses. This speaks to the potential for a NCDC committee to bring together expertise and foster the interaction between multi-disciplinary scientists and extension specialists. Our goal will be to prepare a formal proposal for consideration as a NC or NCCC committee should the NCDC be approved.
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