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.


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.


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.

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