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Updated cover crop decision tool

Updated cover crop decision tool

The Midwest Cover Crop Council has improved their app which helps farmers throughout the Midwest U.S. and Ontario 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

In September, the Midwest Cover Crop Council (MCCC) updated their decision-making tool, which helps farmers from the midwestern United States and Ontario discover which species may work best in their cropping systems. The MCCC updated the structure of the tool as well as the information presented to users.

Woody Van Arkel is a cash crop and hog farmer from Dresden, Ont. who helped with producer input on the original tool as well as the updated version. Expert researchers from the Ontario Agricultural College at the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also contributed to the revamp.

The experts from Ontario conducted “a thorough review of cover crop species and how the recommendations through the selector tool would work,” Van Arkel told Farms.com. “We went through the different species and how they would (grow) in Ontario.”

The tool itself has “been made more user-friendly,” he added. It includes more selection parameters, and producers can click through to an information sheet with more details about the specific species.

To use the tool, you “would put in your county, your seeding and harvest date of the crop you’re working around, and the criteria of what you want that cover crop to do,” Van Arkel explained. The output is “a selection of potential cover crops that would work in that situation.”

MCCC held an information session on Sept. 23 to review features of the updated app.

Experts who worked on the app wanted it to be as informative as possible, while still being uncluttered visually, so there are many options to hover the curser over sections of the output to read more detailed information, explained Ian Kropp, from the Design Support and Informatics Lab at Michigan Sate University.

Initially, cover crop options will be listed alphabetically, he explained. Users can select “revise your requirements” to add more details.

“It helps you do an iterative process of improving your results,” he added. Farmers can sort the list by cover crop type or “alternatively you can add a goal … automatically it will rank all of the cover crop (options) based on their fulfillment of that goal.”

Goals may include nitrogen fixation, compaction alleviation, or forage value.

You can add and rank goals to “see the trade-offs as you’re getting more information about your cover crop,” Kropp said.

The app uses long-term weather averages to estimate frost-free days for each county, Van Arkel explained. The visual output lists the cover crops with a green bar indicating when they could be grown.

When adding a cash crop to the app, a grey bar will appear when that crop will be in the field so “you can see which cover crops are appropriate for a given cash crop,” Kropp said. “Additionally, you can add information about your drainage situation” to evaluate if it would be compatible with a given cover crop.

Finally, the decision tool has been optimized for tablets and mobile phones, a big improvement from the previous version, Kropp added.

To access the tool, or find more information click here.

Elen11\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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