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Perspective from a Cover Crop Research Funder

The executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research shares an interest in cover crops.

By Sally Rockey, Ph.D., Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research executive director

Posted Dec. 20, 2017

Soil is the foundation of American agriculture. To give future generations a sustainable food supply, we must address soil health challenges with science-based solutions.

Since the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) was established in 2014, we have heard many times about the critical need to improve soil health across the United States. We have also heard about the host of environmental and economic benefits offered by one soil-health-promoting practice: cover crops.

Cover crops are known to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, increase water efficiency and provide economic benefits to producers. But not every cover crop is right for every food production system in every environment.

We must provide producers with the right options that yield benefits to their operations.

One study alone won't provide the solutions we need. We need long-term, collaborative work to investigate the complexities of using cover crops and provide real solutions for farmers.

That's why FFAR is proud to be working with the Noble Research Institute on a national cover crop initiative. The $6.6 million partnership was designed to promote soil health through the development and adoption of new cover crops across the United States.

Why is FFAR interested in cover crops? With 10 billion people projected to populate the world by 2050, our soil – our greatest natural resource – will be strained more than ever. Farmers will need to produce more with less – less land, less resources and less water. Healthy soil will be vital to meeting future production demands.

Cover crops are a viable solution to the issue of declining soil health. New technologies and continued adoption of sustainable agricultural practices will be essential to continuing America's tradition of providing a safe, nutritious food supply.

FFAR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill. We bring together leading experts to identify and investigate the researchable questions whose answers have the potential to enhance the economic and environmental resilience of our food system.

FFAR has prioritized "Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms" as one of its seven strategic challenge areas and aims to increase soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new practices that improve soil health.

This initiative is the perfect example of what FFAR is working to achieve – bringing together key players toward a common goal that benefits agriculture. Most important is the direct impact this research will have on producers. The work done in the lab will not stay there. It will be field-tested and applied in systems-based approaches so the investments made by FFAR and others will have a real impact on producers.

I thank the Noble Research Institute for its leadership on this project and for the dedication of its researchers to getting cover crop solutions into the hands of farmers. Together with producers, we can develop and deploy cutting-edge science to improve soil health and work toward a more efficient American agriculture system.

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