Winter cover crops could provide a sustainable solution for cotton and peanut growers, while also having a positive economic impact on overall production.
“Being in the state of Georgia, we heavily produce cotton and peanuts. Those are traditional row crops. In the recent years, there has been a decline in income for people who are producing these row crops,” said Dr. Hari Singh, a Fort Valley State University research associate professor of plant science.
As a result, Singh is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Services (ARS) in Tifton, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida on a four-year project to study the use of winter cover crops for biomass in the southern coastal plain. Cover crops, which are grasses, legumes and other forbs, could provide benefits such as erosion control, improving soil structure and suppressing weeds.
Singh received a $115,779 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational Program (grant 005843). This funding is part of $494,000 awarded to Tifton’s USDA ARS, the lead institution for the project.
“This research will focus on identifying the potential of growing and harvesting lupin (Lupinus sp.) as a sole feedstock and in combination with rye as a cover crop for biomass production within a typical southern coastal plain row crop (cotton-peanut) rotation and within newly established loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) plantings,” Singh said.
In addition, he said the group aims to investigate the feasibility of Brassica carinata (A. Braun) seed production as an industrial oil for bio-jet fuels within the pine production system.
“This research is also closely aligned with interest from regional industry sectors in the state, which puts emphasis on the production of a variety of biofuels, including bio-jet fuel from biomass over other renewable products,” Singh explained, noting they are working with LanzaTech, a private biofuel company in Georgia.
Singh said field trials on cotton, peanuts and pine have already begun at FVSU and Tifton’s USDA ARS. “We are introducing cover crops in between. The lupin is already growing in the field,” he said, noting both organizations will compare their data on the planting and harvesting of these crops.
He also mentioned that cover crops offer economic and environmental benefits.
“They can reduce fertilizer cost and the need of herbicides and pesticides,” Singh remarked. “We expect to provide more evidence on the benefits of double cropping systems in maximizing biomass yield of the secondary crop for use in bioenergy production without reducing yield or quality of the primary crops.”
Singh said it is rewarding to participate in this partnership for the advancement of the local economy and to contribute sustainable options to farmers. He plans to offer specialized sessions for farmers and provide information during FVSU’s Agricultural Field Day.
Dr. Govind Kannan, dean of FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, emphasized the significance of this research and said it could directly benefit the local growers involved with row crop production.
“Adoption of cover crops will not only increase rural income for growers of row crops in continual rotation and loblolly pine plantations, but it will also ensure bio-economy development, water conservation and soil quality enhancement in the region,” Kannan said. “I am very pleased to see Dr. Singh’s engagement in this project.”
The AFRI Foundational Program focuses on building a foundation of fundamental and applied knowledge in food and agricultural sciences critical for solving current and future societal challenges.
For more information about cover crops, contact Singh at (478) 822-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.