The ultimate goal of this project is to provide farmers with a web-based decision support tool for cover crop adoption that utilizes existing and future research to demonstrate the potential of cover crops in response to the nutrient loss challenge facing Illinois farmers and increase the adoption of this important practice to limit nutrient loss, improve soil conditions and benefit the environment. This tool would be used by farmers to simulate cover crops in their fields to visualize the expected benefit and manage them should they adopt the practice. Using the DSSAT model, the tool will provide information about cover crop growth integrated into common cropping systems, starting with cereal rye added to a corn-soybean rotation. When completed, the tool will:
• simulate growth of the cover crop, including termination scenarios across multiple fields in the farm operation;
• estimate biomass in the field to determine termination date (possible early warning system);
• estimate the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio;
• estimate the amount of carbon, nitrogen and water stored in the cover crop; and
• provide estimates of the impact on soil moisture and field conditions, nutrient loss and water quality from the cover crop in each individual field,
By simulating possible crop growth and, the tool can help assist farmers with cover crop decisions and management, while minimizing the risks associated, by:
• combining soil, weather, and cropping (including cover crops) data for a given set of conditions;
• displaying information in a practical, usable format that puts the power of research, technology and data about cover crops and field conditions in the farmer’s hands;
• providing site-specific recommendations and estimates of crop yield, water quality impact, etc.; and
• allowing a farmer to run a range of scenarios to assist with decision planning and help maximize crop yield while minimizing negative impacts on water quality.
The project will utilize all existing published cover crop data in Illinois and acquire additional data from ongoing projects, research and farmers adopting cover crops. Additional data will help improve the simulation capabilities and web tool accuracy and functionality. These data will be used to update the tool and improve simulation accuracy.
Finally, the information provided by the tool will quantify the impacts of cover crops on individual fields and crop management systems that could be aggregated to watershed and larger areas to understand the regional effects of cover crops on nutrient loss. This information will have substantial benefit for researchers and policy makers, helping improve cover crop knowledge and simulation capabilities to encourage the adoption of these practices by farmers. The tool and data will provide researchers with real-world information about cover crops, cover crop practices and water quality, which could lead to additional research opportunities, as well as attract researchers looking to work on cover crops and water quality issues.