Scaling Crops for Sustainable Water Management: Building Supply Chains

Building Supply Chains for Environmentally Beneficial Crops
Generating Next Generation Crops Solutions
Building Supply Chains for Environmentally Beneficial Crops
Generating Next Generation Crops Solutions

Program Contact

Nikki Dutta

  • Next Generation Crops

Cover Crops Can Increase Sustainability and Improve Profitability

Summer crops such as wheat, rice and corn can be profitable for farmers, but post-harvest farmland is unproductive during the off-season. This farmland is also exposed to water-related challenges, including soil nutrient loss, erosion, and precipitation runoff. Winter-hardy annual crops and perennial crops can help prevent these water challenges by covering the land. In addition to these environmental benefits, these crops can enhance overall farm productivity and profit by producing valuable agricultural commodities.

With so many benefits, why aren’t more farmers planting these dual-purpose cover crops?

Farmers are hesitant to plant these crops because most are not fully developed. End-use markets, supply-chain logistics, seed supplies, and reliable production methods are all critical to farmer adoption. Many of these crops also require breeding improvements to improve yields.

This research aims to reduce these risks by developing sustainable supply chains for several cover crops. Researchers are working with partners in many sectors to ensure that there is a ready and willing buyer for these crops. Ultimately, this research provides farmers with greater financial incentives to plant these crops – and reap the environmental benefits.

Dr. M. Scott Wells of UMN Forever Green is prepping winter camelina seed for planting.

Why this research is important

The project focuses on developing market-driven strategies to increase the adoption of certain emerging dual-purpose cover crops that, if widely cultivated, could greatly enhance sustainable water management in agriculture.

Farmer Benefits

  • Building connections to institutional buyers ensures demand for these crops.
  • Developing sustainable supply chains creates new markets for emerging crops.
  • These crops help optimize water management and improve soil health, lowering costs by reducing inputs.
  • Many of the crops are climate resilient, cutting potential losses from climate change.

Institutional Buyer & Retailer Benefits

  • Developing sustainable supply chains for these crops connects buyers to reliable suppliers.
  • Broader availability of dual-purpose cover crops provides commercial opportunities.

Community Benefits

  • Wider farming of winter-hardy annuals and perennials used as cover crops leads to new economic opportunities.
  • Croplands that better retain water can reduce soil erosion and prevent downstream flooding of cities and infrastructure.

Environment Benefits

  • By helping to optimize water management, these crops reduce water waste.
  • Improved soil health from these crops prevents fertilizer runoff, decreasing water pollution.
  • Year-round crop cover removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
FFARs Next Generation Crops Challenge seeks to fund research that can allow producers to increase crop diversity, sustainability and profitability in their farming operations. This research project aims to address those objectives.

Details About this Research

This research is developing and scaling supply chains for cover crops. The research team is examining potential markets, water management needs and other environmental and social benefits of dual-purpose cover crops. With this information, the researchers are developing a multi-level strategy to create larger supply and demand for these crops.

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