Agriculture’s grand challenge of feeding the world’s growing population while protecting the environment just got a big boost. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) awarded eight institutions nearly $80 million to fund ground-breaking research aimed at transitioning today’s agricultural into more sustainable and resilient systems.
The, AFRI-Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) program awarded $10 million to the project “Enhancing the Sustainability of US Cropping Systems through Cover Crops and an Innovative Information and Technology Network”, led by Dr. Chris Reberg-Horton (North Carolina State University) and Dr. Steven Mirsky (USDA-Agricultural Research Service). The funding will support a coalition of university, non-profit, and federal scientists including Dr. Carlene Chase, Dr. Michael Mulvaney, Dr. Danielle Treadwell, and Dr. Mickie Swisher from the University of Florida (~100 scientists from 35 institutions) with expertise in crop management, systems modeling, social science, technology (sensing technology, computer science, and AI/machine learning experts), and human-centered design (farmer-driven research, technology, and outreach). The five-year project aims to increase crop profitability, resilience, and sustainability (regenerative agriculture) by enhancing the effectiveness of cover crop-based conservation tillage systems for commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, and cotton.
The Precision Sustainable Agriculture team (http://precisionsustainableag.org/) will enhance research, education, and extension through real-time data flow, edge and cloud-based platforms, decision support tools, and on-farm monitoring systems. By focusing on cover crops and conservation tillage, the project will contribute to both improved profit for farmers and reduced environmental impact. Cover crops are plants, such as legumes, grasses, and brassicas, that are grown to protect and regenerate soil and improve water, nutrient, and pest management; they are not typically harvested for cash income. When cover crops and reduced tillage are used together, farmers can also accelerate carbon sequestration in the soil. These farming practices increase soil health, allowing for more climate-resilient production of food and fiber.
Faculty members from the University of Florida will investigate the impacts of cover crops on chemical and biological cycles and their influence on crop performance; water and nitrogen availability and use efficiencies; and pests, diseases, and weeds. Trials will be conducted on UF/IFAS research stations as well as on farms. The team will develop and deploy key technologies to support farmers through an iterative research, design, and assessment process.
The social science research will take three approaches: (1) engagement of farmers during the design and implementation of the field research, conducting assessments of on-station experiments by farmers and other stakeholders to provide feedback to the research team, and facilitating a multistate Farmer Think Tank that will provide broad-based input to the project leadership to assist in the interpretation and application of research findings to farmers’ conditions.
For more information, contact Dr. Carlene Chase (cropping systems research, weed science lead) at firstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Michael Mulvaney (cropping systems research and extension) at email@example.com, Dr. Danielle Treadwell (cropping systems research and extension) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Mickie Swisher (social science research) at email@example.com.
Institutions involved: Aarhus University (Denmark), Applied GeoSolutions, University of Arkansas, Auburn University, Clemson University, Cornell University, University of Delaware, University of Georgia, University of Florida, Iowa State University, University of Idaho, University of Illinois, Kansas State University, University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University, McGill University (Canada), University of Maryland, Michigan State University, University of Missouri, National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina State University, University of Nebraska, University of New Hampshire, The Noble Research Institute, The Ohio State University, The Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Regional Cover Crop Councils, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), Texas A&M University, University of Tennessee, USDA-ARS, University of Vermont, Virginia Tech, Washington State University, and University of Wisconsin