Researchers from the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Bloomington will share in a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to better understand the usefulness of cover crops.
SPEA says the team is talking a holistic approach to the climate, soil, and water quality benefits of cover cropping while mapping them across the landscape to better understand when and where cover crops are likely to succeed.
“Cover crops are believed to be effective natural climate solutions, but this perspective is informed by a surprisingly small amount of field trial data,” said IU Professor Kim Novick, who is leading the research. “The data that do exist about the effects of cover crops on soil carbon storage don’t tell us much about how cover crops affect other greenhouse gases, water cycling, or local temperature.”
Novick says this project will explore the movement of carbon dioxide between farmland and the atmosphere, between farmland and streams, and the interactions between carbon, nutrient, water, and energy cycles.
According to a report issued in July from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, a growing number of Hoosier farmers are adopting cover crops in their operations.
Cover crops are typically planted in the fall after harvest and help protect the soil and keep roots in the ground throughout the winter, which improves soil health and helps filter water runoff. This research team wants to measure how much carbon dioxide can be stored in these crops.
“These robust datasets we will generate could be a useful ‘gold-standard’ for mechanistic understanding of cover crops as a natural climate solution,” Novick said. “Many aspects of our work could also be easily translated to assess the socio-environmental potential of other natural climate solutions.”
Novick says field observations will be integrated with satellite remote sensing data to create maps describing where cover crops will be most useful, while also narrowing the gap between the technical and realizable potential of cover crops across the Midwest.
The study aims to provide actionable policy and management guidance through committed partnerships with a broad community of private and public stakeholders.