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Researchers pursue new cover crop varietiesResearchers pursue new cover crop varieties

MU and the Noble Foundation say new cover crop varieties will improve soil health.

May 8, 2017

2 Min Read
SOIL HELP: Kerry Clark, research associate at MU Bradford Farms, stands in a soil pit to show off the different soil horizons and explains why Missouri soils can be difficult to work with.Photos by Kyle Spradley, MU College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

The University of Missouri will work with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to find new cover crop varieties to improve the nation's soils.

The research is part of a $6.6 million initiative to promote soil health through cover crops.

Rob Myers, MU adjunct associate professor and north-central regional director of Extension programs for the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research Education program, led the effort to obtain funding for the multistate project.

Myers says the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation will now lead the initiative. The Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research contributed a $2.2 million grant for the project, with the remaining funding provided by the Noble foundation.

MU will receive $200,000 for cover crop germplasm screening and evaluation at the MU Bradford Research Center in Columbia. Soil scientist Kerry Clark will lead the MU effort and work with Myers and others on the multiagency project, which includes states like Missouri, Nebraska, Maryland, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

NEW CROP: Finding ways to improve the soil is the goal of a new research project that includes developing new cover crop traits.

Cooperative effort
Myers says representatives of land-grant universities including MU, seed industries, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, farmers and others will work together to identify and introduce key traits to improve crop yields and soil health.

Missouri has an estimated 600,000 acres of cover crops. Nationally, the U.S. should surpass 20 million acres of cover crops planted annually by 2020, according to Myers. "The new cover crop varieties developed through this national project will be pivotal to expanding cover crop use on tens of millions of acres, protecting and improving our nation's soil resources."

Cover crops reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and aid in pest, weed and disease control. They also improve water availability and crop diversity. Researchers will study and compare small grains, annual legumes and brassica cover crop germplasm to find the best way to improve soil health.

Field trials will be conducted initially at five sites in Missouri, Nebraska, Maryland, North Carolina and Oklahoma, with tests at additional locations in later stages of the project. The broad geographic area allows researchers to study how cover crops perform in different environments.

Myers says experienced cover crop experts in these states would work with scientists at the Noble foundation. Research includes traditional and advanced plant breeding and evaluation, with introduction of key traits to improve crop performance and soil enhancement.

Researchers want to identify the best cover crop species and varieties to promote to farmers and ranchers. They will share results with the public through national meetings and peer-reviewed publications.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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