If engagement in field days this summer is any measure, farmer interest in protecting the well-being of their land through the use of cover crops and other practices is strong and growing.
The Soil Health Partnership wrapped up its summer field days promoting cropping systems that improve soil health. More than 20 events took place in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Nebraska. Farmers, conservation leaders, equipment companies and others demonstrated to attendees how changing conservation practices, such as adding cover crops, conservation tillage and improving nutrient use efficiency, can create lasting environmental benefits while potentially increasing farm productivity and income.
A field day in Lake Wilson, Minn., one of four events scheduled this week, had 55 participants. Nick Goeser, director of the Soil Health Partnership, says average participation in the events has at least doubled from what the organization saw last year.
"Grower engagement at the field days this year has been inspiring," Goeser said. "They're putting a lot of thought into how to improve their operation - how to make strip-till practices and cover crops a success. The Soil Health Partnership's primary mission is in data collection, but farmers talking to farmers and sharing what they know with their network is a critical element of our long-term success."
Dialogue at the field days often included questions about how to select the best cover crops, shade tolerance of cover crops, how long it takes to get started, technical questions about strip-till and equipment capabilities.
Greg Whitmore hosted an event on his farm in Shelby, Nebraska in September. After experimenting with cover crops for ten years, he joined the partnership in 2014 to improve his understanding of cover crops and the benefits. He grows cereal rye and radishes in the fall and winter, which capture the leftover nutrients on the ground for the next cash crop while creating organic matter. Radishes help hold moisture in the ground and also reduce compaction issues related to harvest, he said.
"Several of the farmers who came to the field day on my farm had dabbled in cover crops, but were looking for more answers," Whitmore said. "It's really worthwhile, especially in these tight economic times, so we want to demonstrate that."
Whitmore says cover crops are definitely starting to take off.
"I see them on my neighbors' farms more and more," he said. "One participant noted we're probably about where we were 30 years ago with no-till...it's not quite mainstream yet, but the early adopters are helping it take off."
An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, SHP works closely with diverse organizations including commodity groups, industry, foundations, federal agencies, universities and well-known environmental groups toward the common goal of improving soil health.
One more field day is schedule for Sept. 18 near Rutland, Illinois. For more on that event or for future Soil Health Field Days, visit SoilHealthPartnership.org or email email@example.com. Events will take place throughout the year.