MINNEAPOLIS (May 5, 2021) – Summer crops such as wheat, rice and corn can be profitable for farmers, but post-harvest farmland is unproductive for several months during the off season. This farmland can accumulate a variety of water-related challenges, including soil nutrient loss and erosion and precipitation runoff. However, continuous living cover crops can prevent these challenges. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $1,997,454 grant to the University of Minnesota to develop models for sustainable supply chains that create markets for crops farmers can grow between seasons.
“While popular cover crops can be used as food or as inputs in other products, there may not be large markets for these crops,” explained FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR hopes to increase the use of cover crops – and reap the environmental benefits – by creating a sustainable market with consistent buyers for these crops.”
Planting continuous living cover crops, such as intermediate wheatgrass, winter camelina, pennycress, winter barley and hybrid hazelnut, has several environmental benefits. These perennials—which do not require replanting—and winter-hardy annual crops decrease fertilizer runoff to surface and groundwater and increase farmland’s ability to absorb and hold rainfall. Croplands that better retain water can reduce soil erosion and prevent downstream flooding of cities and infrastructure. However, farmers are often hesitant to plant these crops because most are not widely used commercially, making farming and supply chain logistics risky or cost prohibitive.
“By preserving soil health and improving water management, continuous living cover crops are already valuable to growers,” said Dr. Jeff Rosichan, director of FFAR’s Crops of the Future Collaborative. “In addition to these environmental benefits, this research will provide growers with greater financial incentives to use continuous living cover crops.”
University of Minnesota researchers, led by Dr. Nicholas Jordan, are working with cross-sector partners to develop and scale sustainable supply chains for several cover crops. Sustainable supply chains link on-farm crop production to end-use markets in economically, environmentally and socially beneficial ways. Researchers are running six regional pilot projects to determine appropriate crops for various sites and growing conditions. This research is examining potential markets, water management needs and other environmental and social benefits of perennials and cover crops. The multilevel strategy will lead to larger supply and demand systems for a wider adoption of the crops.
The project involves engagement between growers, end-user companies, water-management and environmental stakeholders and others. The planning process is identifying how to integrate production with post-production supply chain infrastructure and will connect farmers with private-sector firms interested in purchasing continuous living cover crops for commercial use.
“Robust supply chains that link supply to demand are key to farmers’ adoption of continuous living cover crops and to realizing the environmental and economic benefits that these crops offer,” said Dr. Jordan. “We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to research new supply-chain development strategies for these crops.”
Matching funds are being provided by Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, Cargill, Friends of the Mississippi River, Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, NORI, Pipeline Foods, The Land Institute and Walton Family Foundation for a total $3,997,423 investment.
Image: Winter camelina in bloom, early May. Credit: University of Minnesota, David L. Hansen
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking