Research Reviews Cover Crops' Ability to Improve Ag Resiliency

Research Reviews Cover Crops' Ability to Improve Ag Resiliency

Purdue researchers hop on board with 10 other land-grant universities and USDA looking to improve ag's resiliency toward climate challenges

Cover crops and data on controlled drainage of water are under Purdue researchers' microscopes as they participate in a 10-university project to examine ways to mitigate climate change's effects on agriculture.

The grants are part of a larger project headed up by USDA that focuses broadly on various regional impacts and potential ramifications of a changing climate.

The project is further backed by White House efforts to tackle climate change and a new climate assessment released this week by the Obama Administration that predicts complications from climate change will become increasingly unfavorable to agriculture in the next 25 years.

Purdue researchers hop on board with 10 other land-grant universities and USDA looking to improve ag's resiliency toward climate challenges

Upper Midwest projects focus on ways to make corn-based cropping systems more resilient and sustainable, called the Sustainable Corn Project.

Purdue's research team's work in studying cover crops and drainage water management is aimed at helping crops become more productive amid variable weather and climate, said agronomy professor Eileen Kladivko.

"We are researching practices that are not yet widely adopted across the state," she said.

Cover crops improve soil health over time by reducing erosion and increasing water infiltration and retention, said Kladivko, who is researching cover crops. The mulch provided by cover crops can conserve soil moisture longer during the growing season, resulting in reducing crop stress during dry periods.

"Many of these benefits require several years of using cover crops before they build up, however, so producers need to keep the long view in mind," she said.

Agronomy professor Phillip Owens is working to increase understanding of the role of soil variability in soil health and agricultural resilience.

Professors Jane Frankenberger in agricultural and biological engineering and Laura Bowling in agronomy are evaluating drainage water management, sometimes called controlled drainage, for its effect on conserving water that otherwise would drain away in the early growing season. 

Some of the water can be stored within the soil itself by raising the outlet of the drainage system immediately after spring planting. The crops then would have increased availability to water during dry periods.

"While that system has shown only small increases in crop yields in some years, the potential benefits may become more important in the future due to climate variability and change," Kladivko said.

Source: Purdue

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