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Jun 05, 2012

Delaware Valley College receives a grant to fund cover crop research

Delaware Valley College has received a $20,600 grant from the Pennsylvania Soybean Board to conduct  cover crop research. As part of the grant, four DelVal students were hired to help Professor of Agronomy and Environmental Science Larry Hepner with the project, which began in May and will run for a year.

The Pennsylvania Soybean Board conducts and supports soybean research, marketing and education work and is funded by soybean checkoff.

Three students were hired to help set up the experiment and one student, Joe Capece, an environmental science junior, was hired to work over the summer taking samples and maintaining the devices used for the experiment.

The experiment looks at ways to hold nitrogen fixed by soybeans for the next year’s crop and will provide useful information for growers from an economic standpoint.

“We hope to give growers some information on whether the added nitrogen you might save is worth the price of putting down the cover crop,” said Hepner. “Can we get an added benefit? We hope to give them some numbers.”

Hepner has taught and done research at DelVal since 1979. He holds a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Delaware Valley College and a master’s in agronomy from Penn State University.

He has had more than 20 research projects funded by organizations including: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hepner is excited about the grant and about having another opportunity to get students involved in research.

“I’m always excited and happy to do research,” said Hepner. “We try to find grants and research projects that undergraduate students can get involved with, so that it peaks their interest in what is happening in agriculture today from a science standpoint.”

Capece, an environmental science student going into his junior year, was eager to get involved with the research and do some work in his field.

“I’ve been involved in a few research projects,” said Capece. “I like the opportunities for hands-on learning at DelVal.”

Hepner said four students, including Capece, filled the lysimeters with soil and piped them up to capture the water.

This summer, Capece will be collecting the samples and running the nitrate analysis from the samples.

“I’ll be running the experiment by myself this summer,” said Capece. “I’m excited to see the results.”

Each device has a separate pipe that allows Capece to take a sample of water from the bottom, after it has traveled through the soil for analysis.

The lysimeters have been planted with soybeans, which convert gaseous nitrogen into organic nitrogen, which is potentially available for the next year’s crop. The nitrogen has to decompose and break down to get converted into inorganic nitrogen that a following crop can use.

The DelVal experiment is working to determine whether some of the nitrogen is lost before the crop for next year can take it up. It looks at a couple of different cover crops and ways to capture nitrogen, and whether or not they can hold the nitrogen and make it available for the next crop.

The experiment is also working to determine the best way to be able to capture that nitrogen if it is leaching.

Soil samples will be analyzed for nitrates, ammonium, and total nitrogen.

The devices will be divided up into replicates of three. Three will be control, with no cover crop. Six will be planted with a shallow-rooted cover crop, with three being planted mid season and three being planted late season. The six remaining lysimeters will be planted with a deep-rooted cover crop, with three being planted midseason and three being planted late season.

Capece has had Hepner for several classes and said he meets up with him to talk about research.

He said getting experience in his field, as a student, is helping him to figure out exactly what type of work he’d like to do in environmental science when he graduates.