CoverCress: Research and Development of Field Pennycress as a Cash Crop for Illinois Farmers

[highlight]Message from Pete Fandell, ISAP Steering Committee Member: ISAP is committed to providing tools and information for farmers and their trusted advisors to improve soil health and reduce nutrient loss. This includes sharing research on new technologies. Members were made aware of research being conducted by CoverCress during a recent call among cover crop specialists. CoverCress is in the early stages of development and field testing, and we look forward to seeing how it performs on Illinois farms.   We caution readers that CoverCress does not meet the definition of a cover crop, but does offer opportunities to improve soil health via continuous living cover and increased crop diversity. We encourage farmers and farm advisors to carefully evaluate information provided by CoverCress before deciding it is right for them. In addition, when considering a cover that can be harvested as a potential crop, please check with your insurance provider first, as this may impact your insurance.[/highlight]

CoverCress: Research and Development of Field Pennycress as a Cash Crop for Illinois Farmers

Growers across Illinois recognize the value of improving soil health, and each fall several million acres of cover crops are planted. Cover crops work to provide protection for the soil, increase nutrient capture, reduce pesticide usage, and in some cases, provide a habitat for wildlife. Far too often it can be difficult for farmers to truly see the benefits of these cover crops in the first years of implementation, and they may be looking for alternative ways to reap some of the benefits of cover crops while also providing a cash return.

We at CoverCress Inc. are conducting research on a new cash crop that has potential to improve soil health by providing continuous living cover and increasing crop diversity. As a company and team of researchers, we are developing a new opportunity that will provide the many benefits of a cover crop with the additional financial incentive to the farmer. How’s that, you ask?

CoverCress (field pennycress) research plots in November

CoverCress Inc., in collaboration with Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, and the University of Minnesota, has been working to domesticate field pennycress, which we call CoverCress. With advanced breeding techniques, CoverCress Inc. and our collaborators have been improving the composition of the pennycress plant (CoverCress) that produces a quality oil and high protein feedstock similar to the qualities found in canola. The oil product of CoverCress could be refined and used as biofuel or as a food grade oil. The high protein meal would then be available as a feed supplement to livestock.

You may be asking, “How does this crop fit into my current crop rotation?” And the answer to that is that you will plant CoverCress right after you harvest your corn, and you will harvest it right before you plant soybeans. This winter annual works hard for you when you would otherwise have fallow ground. You will gain an additional financial benefit because it reduces the need for an herbicide treatment prior to planting soybeans in mid-May because of the weed suppression the crop provides. This low-carbon footprint crop is a terrific opportunity for growers looking for ways to add diversity to their farming operation.

CoverCress (field pennycress) research plots in March-April at flowering time.

For more information on the many possibilities of how CoverCress could benefit your farming operation as a sustainable farming practice, please contact us at . You can also learn more about field pennycress research by visiting

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ISAP Coordinator