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Advancing Cover Cropping to a Purpose-driven, Site-specific Model

Extension Education

Sarah Hirsh
University of Maryland
Princess Anne


Cover crops can provide various benefits such as scavenging nutrients, adding organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, reducing compaction, or competing with weeds. However, often the same cover crop species and management tactics are applied, regardless of field-specific factors or goals. The objective of this project is to encourage strategic cover crop planning, which can increase the agronomic, economic, and environmental benefits achieved through cover cropping. In this project, Extension Educators plan cover crops with farmers according to site-specific factors, such as soil conditions, field-history, crop rotation and goals. Farmers identify the top needs of the field that can be addressed through cover cropping, identify and potentially create gaps in the cash crop rotation to fit cover crops, and critically evaluate the limitations of cover crops. Farmers then evaluate cover crop species and management that will provide the most benefits while also fitting within the farmer’s limitations. Collaborating farmers receive technical and financial support to plant up to three different cover crop systems on up to 150 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Collaborating farmers also participate in farmer-to-farmer learning circles, and complete a Social Network Analysis survey to inform Extension educators on how cover crop knowledge is gained and shared among farmers. Educational events at collaborating farms serve to demonstrate at the field scale to the broader farming community that there is not a one-size-fits-all cover crop and that cover cropping should involve significant planning with regards to site-specific factors and cover crop purpose. After the first season of the project, all field-day survey respondents indicated the program as good or excellent overall, and that as a result of the field-day, they have an “average” or “a lot” likelihood to evaluate various cover cropping options rather than just blanket applying “a cover crop” on the farm; plant cover crop mixes; and plant a cover crop that will be more likely benefit their following cash crop.

Poster has NOT been presented at any previous NACAA AM/PIC

This poster is being submitted for judging. It will be displayed at the AM/PIC if not selected as a State winner. The abstract will be published in the proceedings.

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Authors: Sarah Hirsh, Haley Sater, Shannon Dill, James Lewis, Jennifer Rhodes
  1. Hirsh, S. Agent, University of Maryland, Maryland, 21853
  2. Sater, H. Agent, University of Maryland, Maryland, 21801
  3. Dill, S. Agent, University of Maryland, Maryland, 21601
  4. Lewis, J. Agent, University of Maryland, Maryland, 21629
  5. Rhodes, J. Agent, University of Maryland, Maryland, 21617