LEXINGTON, Ky. — Robert Nalley, a University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment crop science graduate student in the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, recently earned first place at the Tri Societies International Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) host this premier international scientific meeting — bringing together experienced and emerging scientific leaders to advance agronomic, crop and soil sciences. The competitions highlighted the top students from the CSSA and SSSA divisions.
Nalley’s research, a pivotal study in the field of sustainable agriculture, investigates the intricate balance between corn and various cereal cover crops in no-till farming systems, with a focus on nitrogen competition.
The study, “Investigating the Nitrogen Penalty of Cereal Cover Crops in No-Till Corn,” co-authored with advisor Chad Lee and Hanna Poffenbarger, compared wheat, barley and cereal rye as cover crops. The research aimed to identify if barley is less competitive for nitrogen than rye, potentially improving corn yields. Part of his master’s thesis, Nalley’s research represents a vital, comprehensive examination in modern agronomy.
“In our search for sustainable farming practices, we’ve seen that cover crops like cereal rye can be a double-edged sword,” Nalley said. “While they help soil conservation, they can also compete with corn for essential nutrients. Our study explores alternatives like barley, which might offer a better balance.”
The research holds significant implications for Kentucky farmers, many of whom have shifted towards sustainable practices like no-tillage and cover cropping. With a focus on practical application, Nalley’s work addresses real-world agricultural challenges.
“Our project is about balancing productivity and sustainability,” Nalley said. “Kentucky farmers are keen on being productive but also want to adopt sustainable practices. We’re looking at how different winter cereals, specifically wheat and barley, are compared to rye as cover crops. This could change how we approach cover cropping in corn production.”
Lee believes Nalley’s research was deserving of this award.
“Robert has taken ownership of this research project. He’s invested in understanding both the scientific nuances and practical applications,” Lee said. “His ability to convey this balance effectively is what stood out in the competition. This is not just an academic achievement; it’s a national recognition of his research’s potential impact.”
Nalley said finding a middle ground where cover crops can be used effectively without hindering the main crop’s yield is critical.
“We’re looking for a way to use cover crops effectively without compromising the yield of the main crop,” Nalley said. “It’s about finding a sustainable, yet productive way forward in farming.”
Nalley’s winning study was funded by the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council and in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch Project No. KY006125.
— University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment