Adoption of pennycress as a cash cover crop not only can have financial benefits for farmers, it can also have ecosystem benefits including nutrient retention and increased pollinator health and biodiversity. The deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the second largest deadzone in the world, has been attributed to nitrogen inputs from agriculture in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Both surface and subsurface drainage modifications bypass traditional mitigation efforts. Further, insect pollinators are negatively affected by modern agriculture monocultures of self- or wind-pollinated crops that are poor food sources. Pollinator access to food resources are especially important in spring when nest-building, egg-laying, and brood-rearing are initiated. Pennycress as a cover crop has the potential to provide these and other ecosystem services that other cover crops do not.
Pennycress Ecosystem Services: To quantify the benefits of pennycress as a winter cover crop, we will:
- Assess pennycress impacts on reducing nutrient flux, nitrogen and phosphorus, from subsurface drainage throughout the year.
- Determine abundance and diversity of pollinating insects of pennycress which flowers earlier than most other plants.
- Measure pennycress forage resources (pollen and nectar) for pollinators and characterize the health of both individual honey bees and colonies near pennycress fields.