Cover crops can have many benefits for farmers over time, but they can also be difficult for farmers to manage effectively. Students at the University of Kentucky are part of a multidisciplinary class studying how cover crops can fit into various farming systems in the United States.
Nearly 80 students from seven US universities are participating in a course called Cover Crops and Agroecosystems. The course is organized and taught by eight university instructors, including Erin Haramoto, UK Weed Specialist. The hybrid class includes in-person exercises as well as virtual discussions and education. Students study cover crops in farming systems, including corn, soybeans, and special crops.
“Across the country, there has been a sharp increase in the use of cover crops in recent years,” said Haramoto, associate professor at the British College of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture. environment. “Farmers are interested in using them, but there are real challenges that limit their adoption. This class studies how to implement and manage cover crops to maximize their benefits and minimize their negatives.
The UK has seven undergraduate and graduate students participating in the class. The other students come from Clemson University, University of Maryland, University of New Hampshire, Cornell University, Michigan State University, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
The class takes a multidisciplinary approach to teaching cover crops. Students learn how cover crops affect the soil, insects, diseases and weeds. They also learn the economics of cover crops and how to support the farmers who use them.
During Zoom discussions on Friday, instructors divide students into small groups to discuss what they found during their exercises that week.
“On any given Friday I’m probably talking to students at three or four different universities,” said Viktor Halmos, a British entomology graduate student at Lexington. “It’s interesting to hear the different rotations in their states, the types of soil they are working with and the types of weather impacts they have. “
One of the more recent in-person exercises had students develop their own mix of cover crops, plant it, and harvest it. During the harvest, they noted insects, weeds, earthworms, and measured above-ground plant biomass and root biomass in the soil.
The class compared their results to those of students in other states. Some of the preliminary data showed that most states had similar above-ground biomass. The British student’s cover crop mixes suppressed the weeds and they found many different insects in their plots. Kentucky and South Carolina had the greatest microbial activity in their plots, which Haramoto said was expected because these two states are the hottest and wettest in the class.
In previous class meetings, instructors have encouraged students to work together to solve problems that they will potentially face one day as professionals in the agricultural industry.
“We do a lot of application work,” said Susanne Deeb, a UK senior with an individualized major in agriculture curriculum from Roswell, Georgia. “We just spent three weeks setting up a crop rotation for a county in Nebraska that no one in my group has been to before. We’ve learned that we’re going to be scientists in places we might not know anything about, and we’re going to have to figure out things like crop rotation. “
The class is part of a larger five-year, $ 10 million grant that the United States Department of Agriculture awarded to a multidisciplinary group of researchers led by scientists at North Carolina State University in 2019. Researchers are trying to learn more about cover crops and their methods. can increase their use among farmers. Haramoto is also involved in research efforts and studies pest management in cover crops. British Assistant Professor Hanna Poffenbarger is also part of the team and is researching nitrogen dynamics.
This material is based on work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, under award number 2019-1507-05. The opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Agriculture.