Covers Crops Under Cover: Evaluating Costs, Benefits, and Ecosystem Services of Cover Crops in Year-Round High Tunnel Production Systems

Grants and Contracts Details


High tunnels, or unheated greenhouses that are passively heated and ventilated, have been a boon to local and regional food systems, as they afford producers the ability to extend the growing season of warm-season fruits and vegetables, as well as to grow cool-season vegetables through the winter months. Although this may increase the availability of locally produced foods, the intensity of these production systems leave little time for integrating cover crops and fallow periods typically associated with sustainable agriculture practices. This can lead to soil degradation and disease build-up in systems that are valuable to both farmers and community food systems. This project proposes to evaluate the integration of cover crops into high tunnel production systems from ecological and economic perspectives. The project approach is comprised of two main objectives. Briefly, the first objective is focused on evaluating the economic costs and ecosystem service benefits of cover crops in high tunnel rotations, using standard cover crops in rotations with typical high tunnel crops, including tomatoes and greens. Economic parameters evaluated will include input costs and returns in both standard and cover crop-based rotations, as well as opportunity costs in cover crop rotations. Ecosystem services evaluated include nitrogen and carbon losses, soil organic matter dynamics, weed seed bank degradation, and other physical and chemical parameters associated with soil health. The second objective is focused on identifying novel cover crops for high tunnel systems niches in year-round production systems, such as winter and summer cover crops with rapid maturation times. We expect project results to contribute to the research literature on quantifying ecosystem services in sustainable agriculture-oriented systems, as communicated through publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentation at academic conferences. Additionally, we expect project results to provide high tunnel growers in the southeast production information from a holistic perspective to guide management decisions and improve cover crop adoption. Results will be disseminated to producers via presentations at state and regional producer conferences, as well as a webinar advertised via a national high tunnel grower network.
Effective start/end date4/1/169/30/19


  • University of Georgia: $203,277.00


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