Pennycress Ecosystems Services

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 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the second-largest dead zone globally, 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 is essential in spring when nest-building, egg-laying, and brood-rearing are initiated. Pennycress as a cover crop can provide these and other ecosystem services that other cover crops do not.

Assessing SCN Development Potential
Soybean cyst nematode (SCN, Heterodera glycines) is species of concern for soybean producers throughout the Midwest as high populations can reduce soybean yields. Currently, the bi-annual rotation of soybean with non-host corn helps control SCN population density, but the addition of pennycress into this rotation is a concern for the IPREFER project. The IPREFER project is assessing the development potential of SCN on pennycress in field trials in Minnesota and southern Illinois. Preliminary data suggest that SCN can reproduce on pennycress in controlled-environment settings, but the potential for SCN to reproduce under field conditions is limited due to temperature constraints of pennycress’ winter-annual life cycle. Preliminary field data suggests no detectable effect of including pennycress in a corn-soybean rotation on SCN population density.

Research Goal: Quantify the Benefits of Pennycress as a Winter Cover Crop

To quantify the benefits of pennycress as a winter cover crop, we focus on:

  • Assessing pennycress’ impacts on reducing nutrient flux, nitrogen, and phosphorus, from subsurface drainage throughout the year.
  • Determining abundance and diversity of pollinating insects of pennycress which flowers earlier than most other plants.
  • Measuring pennycress forage resources (pollen and nectar) for pollinators and characterizing the health of both individual honeybees and colonies near pennycress fields.
  • Assessing the development potential of SCN on pennycress in field trials in Minnesota and southern Illinois.



  • William (Bill) Perry, Co-PI, Illinois State Univ.

Collaborators & Graduate Students

  • Frank Forcella, Univ. of Minnesota (Pollinators)
  • Ryan Meyer, Illinois State Univ. (Grad. Student)
  • Rob Rhykerd, Illinois State Univ.

2021 Integrated Plant Systems – Undergraduate Research Experience

  • Alex Hafner, 2021 Integrated Plant Systems – Undergraduate Research Experience, Illinois State Univ.
  • William Rice, 2021 Integrated Plant Systems – Undergraduate Research Experience, Univ. of Minnesota
  • Kayla Vittore, 2020 IPS-URE Undergrad. Research Fellow, Univ. of Minnesota


  • Cody A. Hoerning, Univ. of Minnesota (Grad. Student)
  • Mujen (Jack) Wang, Illinois State Univ. (Grad. Student)