UACES Facebook NRCS funds Division of Agriculture conservation project
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NRCS funds Division of Agriculture conservation project

By Fred Miller
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Dec. 4, 2015

Fast Facts:

  • $75,000 NRCS grant was matched by industry partners to support a cover crop demonstration project.
  • Division of Agriculture project shows how legume cover crops help reduce soil compaction and erosion and also build up plant-available nitrogen in soils.
  • Nitrogen fixation can reduce fertilizer N rates by as much as 60 pounds per acre.

(442 words) 

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The right choice of a winter cover crop in rice fields can reduce erosion and soil compaction while improving soil nitrogen available for the plants, said Trent Roberts, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture soil scientist.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded Roberts a $75,000 Conservation Innovation Grant to demonstrate the benefits of cover crops for rice producers, said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist for NRCS.

“CIG invests in innovative, on-the-ground conservation technologies and approaches,” Sullivan said. “The goal is wide-scale NRCS adoption to address water quality and quantity, air quality, energy conservation and environmental markets, among other natural resource issues.”

Two industry partners, RiceTec, Inc., and Crop Protection Services, matched the NRCS grant, bringing total funding for the project to $150,000.

Roberts’ project, called Healthy Soils, Happy Rice, uses Austrian winter peas as a winter cover crop on rice fields. They are a type of plant called legumes, which also includes soybeans.

The advantage of using legumes for cover crops, Roberts said, is they employ naturally occurring bacteria in the soil to fix nitrogen in their plant tissue. When tilled into the soil when preparing for spring planting, the nitrogen improves soil fertility.

“The nitrogen fixation from the cover crop’s biomass can reduce the required N rates by as much as 60 pounds per acre,” Roberts said. “That can equal a significant savings in the cost of fertilizer.”

Roberts has planted the cover crop in a field on a farm owned by Fred Schmidt of Lawrence County. Once the ground dries out from recent rains, he plans to plant additional fields on farms belonging to Sloan Hampton in Arkansas County and Wes McNulty in Jefferson County.

The Austrian winter peas were planted along with oats, Roberts said, to help keep geese out of the fields. The birds don’t like landing in fields with standing stubble, he said, and they don’t like oats as a food source.

In the spring, Roberts said, he will test nitrogen levels in the soil using the Nitrogen Soil Test for Rice (N-STaR) that was developed by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture based on decades of soil fertility research.

The division will also monitor diseases and insect pests in the demonstration fields and measure yields from the rice crops planted in them next year, Roberts said.

With its focus on demonstrating the benefits of using legumes for cover crops, Roberts said, the project will also shed light on the effectiveness of the N-STaR program to determine field-specific nitrogen fertilizer rates.

“The goal of this demonstration project is to show how we can effectively implement cover crops into rice production systems,” Roberts said.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer."   

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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