iCOVER Project

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Project Overview

The iCOVER (Innovated Cover-crop Opportunity, Verification, and Economy stimulating technology for underserved farmers using Robotics) Project fits into iSEE’s Secure & Sustainable Agriculture research theme. In December 2022, it received $4,999,999 from the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program.


Cover cropping is hugely beneficial to farmers and the environment by ensuring more carbon in the soil year-round, keeping nutrients where they belong and out of the atmosphere. But there are three major bottlenecks in cover-crop adoption: high cost and hassle of planting; slow and expensive soil carbon measurements; and low return on investment for farmers.

“iCOVER will scale up autonomous farming and sensing technologies to help reduce the cost and labor burden of cover crop planting, to enable accurate, rapid, low-cost soil measurements, and to explore the market linkages for climate-smart benefits to a diversity of farmers,” said Lead Investigator Girish Chowdhary.

At sites in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa, the team plans to scale up robotic cover-crop planting from 1,000 acres in Year 1 to 20,000 in Year 4 — bringing the cost to less than $10 per acre. Additionally, the team will work with Tuskegee, a Historically Black land-grant university, to enable robotic, high-resolution measurements of soil carbon and to create markets for climate-smart projects for minority, underserved farmers growing specialty crops and animal products.

Project News



Why are cover crops important to climate-smart agriculture? How does iCOVER’s work make it easier for farmers to plant cover crops?

Lead Investigator Girish Chowdhary answers these questions and more in our Frequently Asked Questions.

Read the full FAQ >>>


A robot plants cover crops during the summer growing season for corn. Credit: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it is funding a new project led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that will address major obstacles to adoption of cover crops in the United States.

Titled “iCOVER: Innovated Cover-crop Opportunity, Verification, and Economy stimulating technology for underserved farmers using Robotics,” this $4,999,999, four-year project is funded through the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program and was facilitated through the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at Illinois. The project will scale up robotic cover crop planting and verification of soil carbon through innovative radiological robotic sensing technologies, creating markets for climate-smart products for minority underserved farmers growing specialty crops and animal products. 

The iCOVER Primary Investigator is Girish Chowdhary, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering and Computer Science. Other U of I project members include Co-PI Angela Di Fulvio, Assistant Professor of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering (NPRE), and Shadi Atallah, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Consumer Economics. Chowdhary, Di Fulvio, and Atallah are all part of the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA), National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). External partners include Tuskegee University, EarthSense, Inc., Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Corteva, and Indigo Ag.


Read the full news release from iSEE >>>

Read the USDA funding announcement >>>

iCOVER in the Media

Feb. 14, 2023: FarmWeekNow >>>

Jan. 13, 2023: The News-Gazette’s Illini Insider >>>

The Team

Principal Investigator and co-PIs


Operating team: Faculty, Scientists, Postdocs, and Students (in group photo unless otherwise noted)

  • Coming soon!


Institutional and Corporate Partners

  • Tuskegee University
  • EarthSense, Inc.
  • Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)
  • Corteva
  • Indigo Ag

Publications & Presentations

(iSEE project members’ names in bold):

  • Coming soon!!