New web-tool provides estimates for cover crop biomass production by county

A new web-based tool can help users figure out how a rye cover crop best fits into their operation. The tool, developed by researchers from Iowa and Michigan State Universities, allows users to select a Midwestern state, a county, and a cover crop planting date. It then presents the 30-year historical range of cover crop biomasses expected for several spring termination dates. This tool provides a quick, visual assessment of biomass production potential, allowing users to better gauge the opportunities and challenges of winter cover cropping in the Midwest given an individual farm’s climatic and managerial considerations.

The biomass estimates were created using a crop model that incorporates crop, soil, weather, and management information. While estimates were produced at a 30 meter by 30 meter resolution, the tool averages values to a county-level as it is meant to provide guidance rather than site-specific predictions. The model was calibrated using published studies measuring rye biomass at several points throughout the growing season done across the Midwest. The calibrated model was run using 30 years of historical weather data on land with an agricultural land-use designation that has grown corn at some point in the past 7 years.

 “This easy-to-use tool is a great resource both for farmers experienced with using cover crops and for farmers considering cover crops for the first time,” says Stefan Gailans, Research Director at Practical Farmers of Iowa. “I have it bookmarked and share it regularly.” 

For questions or comments about the tool, please contact Gina Nichols at vnichols@iastate.edu. Development of the tool was funded in part by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) program.

Liz Ripley