Evaluation of cover crop adoption decision support tools in the US Midwest
Dr. Allen Knapp
As global climate change’s effects bring increasingly difficult growing conditions, it is more important than ever to implement resilient farming practices that protect the soil, water, and ecosystem services on which we depend. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS), released in 2013, laid a framework for an overall 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural landscapes. Cover crops are an essential, versatile practice that provide moderate nutrient retention. Despite this, cover crops have seen alarmingly minimal adoption across Iowa when compared with INRS goals. It is up to researchers and agricultural organizations to support farmers and their advisors to change land management in the state.
One meaningful way to support farmers is through agricultural decision support tools (DSTs) - software that guides a user through the decision process. This research surveys all DSTs, specific to cover crops, that are available online to farmers. Then, drawing from literature, evaluates the extent to which these tools possess qualities of effective agricultural DSTs and whether informational desires of stakeholders are addressed. Results indicate that seven major cover crop DSTs available to farmers provide, with varying complexity and depth, much of the operational and economic information desired by stakeholders regarding cover crops. Existing tools provide support to farmers in species selection and short-term economic impacts but few address long-term impacts, economically or environmentally, of cover crop adoption. Cover crop DSTs do not yet examine systems-level interactions of cover crops with other farm management decisions, an informational need identified by the research.