The National Cover Crop Initiative is the first Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research investment in Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms. In March 2017, a $2.2 million FFAR grant to The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation launched a collaborative, multi-partner research effort to improve soil health in the United States. The initiative unites the resources of the two foundations with scientific expertise from several universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture behind a new effort to encourage adoption of existing cover crops and use advanced breeding techniques to develop and deploy new varieties with enhanced soil health-promoting traits.

Research

The focus of the initiative will be to identify cover crop species with the greatest potential to improve soil health and evaluate such species over a broad geography within three groups:  small grains (wheat, rye, oat and triticale), annual legumes (hairy vetch, winter peas and clovers), and brassicas (turnips, radishes, kale and mustards).

This new initiative will take advantage of advanced breeding techniques that have traditionally been limited in application to high-value row crops. Scientists at the Noble Foundation will utilize these techniques to bring new and value-added characteristics to cover crops.

The Need: Cover Crop Benefits

Research indicates that cover crops provide numerous benefits for farmers, agricultural productivity, and the environment. Cover crops:

  • Improve soil health.
  • Mitigate erosion.
  • Increase crop yields.
  • Enhance water use efficiency.

Strategic Research Sites

Research is being conducted in the following states:

  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Nebraska
  • Missouri

Collaborators and Stakeholder Engagement

Engaging both producers and industry, researchers will seek to identify and introduce key traits that can improve crop performance and soil enhancement.

The initiative will bring together representatives from the seed industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), three land grant universities, and an existing Legume Cover Crop Breeding Team, comprising another six land grant universities, ARS sites and a producer network.

Results

Researchers will share results from this project with the public through national meetings and peer-reviewed publications. Certain outcomes, including molecular markers, will be made available through publication and publicly accessible databases.

Join the Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms mailing list to receive the latest information on this initiative.

Testimonials

Mark Keenum, Ph.D.

Image of Dr. Mark Keenum

President, Mississippi State University

“I am very proud to have been part of the startup of this organization from day one and I commend the full board for giving their time and energy to something that is bigger than all of us. I look forward to working with my esteemed colleagues to continue building on the extraordinary progress we have made to create the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.”

Fayaz Khazi, Ph.D.

Together, we will solve problems like how to pair new ideas with the most relevant technologies, and this will help us all create products that are not just better, but game changing — even life changing.”

Fayaz Khazi, Ph.D.
president of Precision PlantSciences

Pam Johnson

Portrait of Pam Johnson

This collaborative research with public and private partners will build on the investments already made in agriculture research so farmers like me can see the return on those investments through improvements in plants in our fields.”

Pam Johnson
National Corn Growers Association past president, FFAR Board Member

Kees Reinink, Ph.D.

Rijk Zwaan is keen to actively contribute to the world’s food supply and stimulate vegetable consumption. Joining the Crops of the Future Collaborative, with leafy vegetables as one of the focus crops, can help us achieve this mission.”

Kees Reinink, Ph.D.
Managing Director of Rijk Zwaan

-April Carroll, Ph.D., Purdue University College of Agriculture

Interest in the phenotyping event exceeded our highest expectations, which speaks to the critical importance of connecting plants’ DNA information to meaningful traits.”

April Carroll Director of Phenomics Purdue University College of Agriculture

Sally Rockey, Ph.D.

Executive Director, FFAR

The pace of technology is absolutely breathtaking because we have this combination of understanding how things work coupled with new technologies. For agriculture, we want to take advantage of not only the increases to our knowledge base but also this technological pace.”

Excerpt from Heurmann Lecture by Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
seen at left being recognized for her lecture by Ronnie Green, Ph.D., then Chancellor-elect of University of Nebraska-Lincoln