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Key Objective: 4.3 Cover Crops on South Farms

The iCAP 2020, objective 4.3 is: “Use cover crops in at least 20% of South Farms acreage by FY24.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is ACES. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Cover Crops on South Farms.

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South Farms is located south of the Florida Avenue campus border, encompassing approximately 3,343 acres operated by departments in the College of ACES. Crop Sciences (which includes the 321-acre Energy Farm) and Animal Sciences are responsible for the largest land areas (roughly 50% and 45% respectively), while the remainder is allocated to Agricultural & Biological Engineering (ABE), the College of Veterinary Medicine, aquaculture research, and forestry. 

This large land parcel should be cultivated as efficiently as possible with respect to the environment, the economy, and scientific research. A proven avenue for advancing these goals is planting cover crops, quick-to-cultivate plants (e.g., rye) that reduce soil erosion and add nutrients back into the soil. Currently, all South Farms cover crop use is in service of research projects, totaling less than 20 acres. Moving forward, we plan to increase this total to approximately 668 acres by planting cover crops on 20% of the South Farms. This target represents an ambitious yet achievable goal, balancing the capabilities of South Farms personnel with the benefits of university support. All ACES departments will be encouraged to participate. 

This initiative goes hand in hand with ongoing ACES efforts to incorporate agricultural conservation practices (e.g., soil erosion monitoring) on university-operated farmland. In 2018, the Agriculture, Land Use, Food, and Sequestration (ALUFS) SWATeam submitted a recommendation to the iCAP Working Group (iWG) stating that a comprehensive, cooperative management plan for all non-research agricultural land on the South Farms should be developed to promote sustainable practices and implement best management practices. Efforts to develop this plan will continue over the next five years. 

One of the most significant considerations for this objective is obtaining and maintaining the necessary equipment. Several methods can be used to plant cover crops, all of which require either refurbishing old equipment (e.g., grain drills owned by Crop Sciences and Animal Sciences) or buying new equipment. For example, should campus pursue interseeding, a method implemented in late summer wherein cover crops are seeded while primary crops are in mid-growth, we would likely invest in a high-clearance sprayer (i.e., a piece of machinery used for fertilizer and other nutrient application) retrofitted with an air seeder to distribute seeds in tandem with the sprayer. 

To best serve our scientists and research faculty members, cover crop use should be coordinated with soil and water health tracking and monitoring.

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