The relationship between environmental sustainability and Alabama’s production agriculture sector is the focus of work being led by College of Agriculture faculty member and AAES researcher Julie Howe.

Along with team partners in Georgia and Florida, Howe is examining how the use of conservation management practices in crop production—such as minimal or no tillage, winter cover cropping and incorporation of organic matter into soils—affect soil fertility and the environment in general. The work stands to increase both the profitability and the sustainability of modern production practices while also sustaining natural resources for future generations.

The economy of the lower Coastal Plains of Alabama, Florida and Georgia is dependent on economical row crop production, primarily peanuts and cotton. Unfortunately, continuous cropping coupled with intensive tillage has resulted in compacted soils, reduced water infiltration, and increased soil erosion.

Including a sod grass, such as bahiagrass or bermudagrass, into the crop rotation ameliorates some of the negative impacts of intensive peanut and cotton production and results in increased yields with reduced inputs.

The overall objectives of this multi-state project are to: 1) develop and compare the economic and environmental benefits of conventional and sod-based farming systems using conservation tillage systems, 2) quantify the positive impact that sod based rotations have on soil health, pest reduction, sustainable farm production, and soil carbon sequestration, and 3) refine and promote production practices in a sod-based rotation which result in significant yield increases associated with decreased inputs.

This project has the potential to improve producer income and stimulate rural economy in the Southeastern US. Furthermore, this project leads to sustainable production practices that benefit the environment by reducing nutrients losses, reducing nutrient inputs, sequestration of carbon, and reduced dependence on water resources for irrigation.

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