UTIA Scientists Receive USDA Grant for Two-way Crop Diversification Study

May 11, 2020

Crop diversification offers a great opportunity for achieving food security without compromising our environmental footprint. Crop rotation and cover cropping have been very effective strategies to achieve crop diversification in agricultural systems worldwide. The benefits of these strategies in isolation are well known. However, we are yet to understand the merits of two-way crop diversification, one way through crop rotation in growing season and the other way through cover crops in non-growing season for specific regions, namely the southeast United States, to build sustainable production systems.

With a four-year grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture research and Extension team will study different two-way diversification strategies to determine best cover crop management (single, double, or multi-species) for corn monoculture, soybean monoculture, corn-soybean rotation, and corn-soybean-cotton rotation in the southeast United States. The project is led by assistant professor Sindhu Jagadamma in the Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department (BESS) along with co-project investigators associate professor Jaehoon Lee and Extension specialist Lori Duncan also from BESS, with collaboration from professor Angela McClure and assistant professor Tyson Raper of the Plant Sciences Department, and from assistant professor Stephanie Kivlin from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. The team will conduct field trials at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson, which will be the first field experiment in the state for studying simultaneous diversification of cover crops and cash crops.

With a greater understanding of the plant, soil, and microbial responses from two-way crop diversification, the team will carry out Extension activities to inform producers about optimum cover crop and row crop diversification strategies that support improved soil health and biodiversity, better crop yields, while reducing fertilizer use. Benefits to the environment include reduced soil and nutrient loss, and improved water and air quality. “Starting the first field experiment in Tennessee by combining in-season plant diversity through crop rotation and off-season diversity through multiple cover crops is really exciting, and it will yield far reaching agronomic and ecological benefits to the row-crop producers of the southeastern US”, the lead PI Jagadamma said.

Overview of the 4-yr project that simultaneously tests diverse cash and cover crop combinations in Tennessee to understand and disseminate soil health, biodiversity, agronomic, and climate resiliency outcomes.


This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Project 1022059.

Contact: Sindhu Jagadamma, sjagada1@utk.edu, 865-974-2690

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