Dec 30, 2010

Cover Crop Workshop Draws Lively Discussion

by Jason Schmidt

Emporia, KS – Lively discussion interspersed with presentations dominated the cover crops workshopheld in Emporia, Kansas on December 6. Thirty farmers gathered to listen, learn and discuss “Cover Crops 101: Why, What, When, and How” as a follow-up to the No-Till on the Plains conference held in Emporia in September. Gail Fuller (Emporia no-till farmer), Paul Ingle (Flint Hills RC&D), and Brian Rees (KSRE Lyon County) organized the December workshop.

Paul Ingle kicked off the day giving a “Top 12” reasons why to use cover crop. Ingle had initially planned on giving a “Top 10” but after considering the numerous benefits, decided to make the list a “Top 12.”

Gail Fuller and Ed Reznicek (Kansas Rural Center) presented personal experiences of using cover crops. Reznicek, an organic crop farmer in Nemaha county, emphasized the importance of using legume cover crops for fixing nitrogen.

“We live in a vast pool of nitrogen,”Reznicek states regarding the atmospheric content of 78% nitrogen.“Organic farmers rely on nitrogen fixation. Buying nitrogen is like buying water at the river.” Reznicek stressed the importance of planning crop rotations to effectively incorporate cover crops into current cropping systems.

Gail Fuller complemented Reznicek’s experience with cover crops. Fuller’s farm motto is “Where we feed billions,” referring to the vast complex of soil life that he is feeding through his no-till cover crop system.

Fuller stated that 1 tablespoon of soil holds more life than all of the human population of China. Cover crops and no-till farming is giving Fuller superior crop yields while also reducing erosion, enhancing soil biologic life and organic matter,suppressing weeds, and increasing nutrient cycling.

Brian Rees, Lyon County Extension, gave an overview of the numerous aspects of cover crops including warm and cool season options for grasses, brassicas and legumes, along with giving agronomic advice on when and how to establish cover crops.

Joan Phillips-Fowler from Lyon County FSA explained some of the challenges and opportunities for integrating cover crops into current USDA farm programs. Phillips-Fowler recommended farmers discuss any plans to incorporate cover crops into current cropping systems with an individual’s FSA and crop insurance agents. Cover crops that are harvested, hayed, or grazed must be reported and may pose certain challenges for existing farm programs.

Jason Schmidt and Dale Kirkham with the Kansas Rural Center led the discussion about the opportunities arising with grazing cover crops. Most cover crops have the potential of providing high quality, inexpensive forage for livestock.Schmidt discussed emerging research that is disproving perceptions that grazing livestock on crop land negatively impacts soil structure.

The grazing discussion centered on the economic opportunities of integrating grazing animals into cover crops. One young farmer commented how he cannot begin to afford to buy crop land; however, as a beginning farmer he can imagine the economic opportunity of leasing cover crops to graze. The challenges of leasing cover crops include a lack of information for establishing rental rates for grazing cover crops, and overcoming the negative perceptions of grazing cropland.

Jeff Davidson, Greenwood County Extension, offered to take the challenges and questions participants raised back to Kansas State University to encourage more research and support for cover crop adoption and management. A second cover crop workshop is planned for early spring 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment