Kentucky Climate-Smart Cereal Rye Cover Crop Initiative - American Farmland Trust

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Kentucky Climate-Smart Cereal Rye Cover Crop Initiative

Commercial quality rye was once widely cultivated in Kentucky, but – during the past several decades – rye production has almost entirely ceased with a focus on producing corn, soybean, and wheat. Bringing rye back to Kentucky as a commercial crop and a cover crop is building farmer and stakeholder excitement and awareness to the benefits of more diverse rotations and cover crops in general, engaging end-user business interest and support, improving regional soil health, water quality and land conservation. It also broadens traditional thinking about how a single crop, such as corn, can be more sustainable when the entire field and seasonal rotation is considered.

At an individual field and a landscape perspective, multiple benefits related to soil health will be achieved with this initiative: healthy soils absorb more water during heavy rains, which reduces runoff, and offer better resilience during periods of drought because the land holds more water. Healthy soils also can help farmers increase yields, increase yield stability, and be more productive in the long term. In addition, using rye as a cover crop is a regenerative agriculture practice that helps sequester carbon to help mitigate climate change. We hope to achieve consistent production of a high-quality rye grain for distilling, brewing, and baking.

Through producer incentives, a revolving fund, and market expansion, the Kentucky Climate-Smart Cereal Rye Cover Crop Initiative aims to increase production of high-quality cereal rye grain for distilling, brewing, and baking. Rye, as either a cover crop or double crop in rotation with corn and soybean cash crop systems, increases farm economic viability and environmental resilience. Simultaneously, rapidly scaling on-farm conservation practices achieves climate change mitigation and increases water conservation and air quality.


Project Goals

  • Increase cereal rye cover crop adoption in Kentucky by reducing social barriers and taking advantage of soil health and economic benefits from adopting new and innovative cover cropping strategies within corn and soybean cash crop rotations.
  • Evaluate cereal rye market opportunities and efficiencies, quality concerns, and end-user motivations for purchasing climate smart cereal grains, focusing on global spirits brands and bourbon distilleries. The proposed project will enhance cereal rye market opportunities via outreach to potential buyers in Kentucky interested in sourcing rye from local farmers in lieu of imported rye.
  • Adapt existing cost-share program pricing structures to an incentive structure that adequately compensates farmers to create financial sustainability and remove reliance on outside funding for practice implementation, and transfer to a market inset incentive model where end-users pay farmers a bushel market premium to purchase their climate smart cereal rye cover crops.

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