Cashing in on Cover
Laying the foundation
The practice of cover cropping adds functional diversity into crop rotations but adoption can be limited by the cost of production and the opportunity cost of producing a cash crop. The development of cash crop varieties that simultaneously provide functional diversity and economically viability would reduce barriers to diversification. In the USDA-NIFA AFRI and WSU BIOAg funded project “Cashing in on Cover” we use buckwheat in western Washington as a model for this path to diversification. In this project we have two main objectives: 1) establish a baseline for agronomic performance, ecological value, and marketable nutritional traits for a panel of buckwheat commercial varieties and breeding lines and 2) assess producer valuation of these services.
Carrying out the objectives
Field trials for Objective 1 are being conducted at two locations in the summers of 2021 and 2022 at the Organic Seed Alliance Washington Research Farm (Chimacum, WA) in cooperation with the Organic Seed Alliance and at Viva Farms (Burlington, WA) in cooperation with the WSU Bread Lab. At these trials we are assessing 1) how quickly each line emerges and develops a canopy, 2) time to the initiation of flowering as well as the density of floral clusters, and 3) agronomic measurements including yield, plant height, and days to maturity. Additional characterization of the phenolic profile of each seed sample is being conducted by project partners at the Crop Research Institute in the Czech Republic. The producer valuation survey for Objective 2 is being developed throughout 2022 and will be disseminated after this coming growing season. The primary goal of this survey is to understand what ecosystem services producers value most from the grains, legumes, oilseeds, and alternative grains in their production systems. Work in this objective is being conducted in cooperation with Dr. Jessica Goldberger, Professor of Rural Sociology, and the WSU Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.
Economic viability is a critical component of improving the sustainability of agricultural systems but is by no means the sole lens that should be used when developing or selecting suitable crop varieties for a new region. Our work in Objective 1 will enhance our understanding if there are existing tradeoff between buckwheat performance as a cash and cover crop, which will guide our initial variety recommendations for the region. Work in Objective 2 will provide critical producer perspective as we (and other breeders) develop and select new minor crop varieties for the region.
Need for local buckwheat and millet markets
The work in this study will provide a roadmap to variety development in the future. However, there is virtually no existing buckwheat supply chain in western Washington. To learn more about what we are doing in cooperation with producers and other local stakeholders to develop local markets for buckwheat and millet in the Pacific Northwest, please see our project titled New Grains Northwest.