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UNH Receives USDA Grant to Boost Climate-Resilient Farming Practices

Project to explore crop row orientation and cover cropping strategies



Contact the Researchers:

Professor

Department of Natural Resources and the Environment

UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture

 

Research Assistant Professor

Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems

UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture


The USDA has announced $55 million in grant funding through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to support innovative agricultural production systems research, including a project by University of New Hampshire researchers who will investigate ways to adapt cropping systems for increasingly variable weather. The UNH project, led by Rich Smith, a professor in the department of natural resources and the environment, and Natalie Lounsbury, a research assistant professor in the department of agriculture, nutrition, and food systems, will focus on how alternative crop row orientation and spacing strategies affect the amount of light or solar radiation plants can absorb and how these strategies can be combined with innovative cover cropping  approaches like interseeding to improve soil moisture dynamics, weed suppression and soil health.

Cover crops (shown here radishes) seeded into a standing corn crop receive limited light while the corn is growing but are ready to take off after the corn is harvested. (Photo credit: UNH)


The research will address climate change-related challenges farmers face, such as variable precipitation and increased weed pressure. In the Northeast, extreme precipitation events have increased by 71 percent from the mid-1990s to the 2010s, heightening the risks of both summer droughts and excess moisture​. Higher temperatures and elevated CO2 levels are predicted to increase weed competitiveness and reduce herbicide efficacy, further stressing the need for integrated weed management​. In addition to research that will be conducted in New Hampshire, the UNH team will work with researchers at North Carolina State University to leverage an extensive national on-farm dataset from the Precision Sustainable Agriculture Network to identify the effects of row orientation on crop yields, soil moisture and weed suppression across different environmental conditions and under different cover crop management.

 

"It's crucial to understand how we can adapt our farming practices to mitigate the impacts of climate change," said Smith, a scientist with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES), whose Station research has focused on cover crop management in the northeast U.S. "By examining the interactions between crop row orientation and cover cropping, we hope to uncover new insights that will help farmers increase productivity while preserving essential natural resources."

 

The four-year study, which will take place at UNH’s Kingman Research Farm, will measure crop yield, soil moisture, weed suppression and other agronomic and soil health variables, with continuous monitoring of light and soil conditions using wireless sensors.

Cover crops being seeded into standing corn using a modified grain drill, the “Interseeder,” which was developed at the Penn State Agricultural Research Farm. (Photo credit: UNH)


According to Lounsbury, “Continuous monitoring of critical variables, like photosynthetically active radiation, soil moisture and temperature will provide insight into the extent to which altering row orientation can facilitate unique cover cropping practices, like interseeding into a standing crop, and how much these practices affect the climate-readiness of the cropping system.”

 

This study complements Smith and Lounsbury’s NHAES projects, which investigate the potential of interseeding cover crops into standing row crops and enhancing ecosystem services. The findings from the AFRI-supported study will provide valuable insights into optimizing cover cropping strategies, which will inform and enhance the NHAES project’s efforts to promote diversified production systems and improve environmental quality within New Hampshire's agriculture industry. By integrating multiple sustainable, agroecological practices, this portfolio of scientific works is intended to provide farmers with tools to reduce dependence on chemical inputs, conserve water and increase resilience to climate extremes​​.

 

"Supporting regional farmers with practical, research-based solutions is at the heart of this work," Smith concluded. "We are committed to helping farmers adopt sustainable practices that will not only improve their yields but also contribute to the overall health of our agricultural ecosystems."

 

ABOUT THE UNH COLLEGE OF LIFE SCIENCES AND AGRICULTURE

 

The UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is the oldest of five colleges at the University of New Hampshire. We are scientists, scholars and educators committed to teaching, research and public service. Our work in the areas of natural resources, agriculture, biological systems, health and nutrition has helped earn UNH nationwide recognition as a top-tier land, sea and space grant university. 

 

ABOUT THE NHAES

 

Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s first research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire's land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources, and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests, and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.

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