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COVER CROP HELP: The upcoming cover crop decision tool will include a species selector and seeding rate calculator, which Steven Mirsky says will be helpful for farmers planting cover crop mixes.

Cover crop decision tool coming to Northeast

The tool will be available to the public for beta testing by late summer.

An online tool designed to help farmers pick out the best cover crop for their farm is being rolled out this summer in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

It is modeled after a program that’s already being used by Midwest farmers through the Midwest Cover Crops Council. That program helps farmers select a cover crop based on their location, cash crop, field attributes, and planting and harvest dates.

Steven B. Mirsky, research ecologist in the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., says the online tool is “is three interconnected tools: a species selector that helps you decide which cover crop(s) to plant; a seeding rate calculator, especially useful for planning cover crop mixtures; and an economics calculator.”

“The tools are currently in the data verification phase,” he says. “By late summer, the tools will be available on the Northeast Cover Crops Council website, northeastcovercrops.com, for beta testing by the public.”

Mirsky says “train-the-trainer” events will be held this fall to promote the tool amongst Natural Resources Conservation Service staff and Extension personnel. He says farmers can attend the events, too.

Tailored to each state

Mirsky says the tool will have specific parameters for each state, “ranging from Maine in the north to Maryland in the south and West Virginia to the west.”

The Midwest Cover Crop Tool, which covers 10 states and Ontario, Canada, allows farmers to select the state and county they live in along with what cash crop they intend to grow.

Midwest Cover Crops CouncilScreenshot of Midwest Cover Crops Council - Cover Crop Decision Tool

MODEL TOOL: Using the Midwest Cover Crop Decision Tool, a farmer from Adair County, Iowa, can see what erosion-fighting cover crops will work in a grain field in well-drained soils.

By selecting the planting and harvesting dates for the cash crop, the program layers data so a farmer can easily see what cover crop might work in their situation. It also considers the farm’s drainage, whether it’s in a flood plain, and what attributes in a cover crop a farmer is looking for, from something that fixes nitrogen to a cover crop that can help with erosion.

Row crops only

While the Midwest cover crop tool can be used for row crops and vegetables, Mirsky says the initial rollout for the Northeast is geared to row crops.

“The current tools are targeted to row crops, though vegetable crop farmers will likely find them useful, too,” he says.

Outreach to farmers will be done through Extension personnel, NRCS employees, certified crop advisers and green industry reps from across the Northeast.

“In addition, we will be hosting hands-on workshops at events such as the Nov. 7-8 Northeast Cover Crops Council meeting in College Park, Md.,” Mirsky says.

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