NCSA Team Contributes To Cover Crop Decision Support Tool

Mar 02, 2021

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For a farmer or grower, using cover crops to maintain soil health during non-growing seasons is rapidly becoming one of the smartest and most-viable land maintenance strategies. Crops like rye, wheat and barley, and even various legumes have become favorites of corn and soybean farmers because they can reduce soil erosion, retain soil nutrients like nitrogen, and even improve water filtration and holding capacity. When compared to the alternative of letting land lay fallow and lose valuable nutrients, choosing which cover crop to plant becomes a nuanced and important decision that can be tailored to various geographies.

Thanks to the work of the University of Illinois’ Cover Crop team, including the work of National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) researchers, farmers and landowners can now harness the power of advanced computing to find how effective a cover crop can be for their location, based on a litany of factors.

Initially, the tool has support for the cereal rye, whose deep roots can be an important component to soil health. With the Cover Crop Analyzer tool, a user is able to map their land, enter the planting dates of their cash and cover crops, and simulate how it will perform with a selected weather pattern, allowing farmers to optimize their crops for a particular season.

The newly-updated tool, named the Cover Crop Analyzer, builds off the framework being developed at NCSA that the Farmdoc team also uses to develop tools farmers can leverage for a variety of concerns, from insurance premiums to commodity payments.

“This latest release of the Cover Crop Analyzer has a decomposition component that gives farmers another perspective for deciding when to terminate the cover crop,” said Chris Navarro, Lead Research Programmer at NCSA and co-PI of the Farmdoc project. “Based on the simulated cover crop growth at termination, we can estimate how quickly the stored nutrients will be released back to the soil which could impact nutrient application and other decisions.”

It’s the hope that the Cover Crop Analyzer will soon be expanded beyond cereal rye to other forms of cover crop, ultimately giving farmers the information they need in order to effectively and efficiently manage their land during “off” seasons.

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