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Cover Crop Field Day 2015

When it comes to ensuring the health of our
nation’s soil, cover crops play a major role. That’s why the Natural Resources Conservation
Service hosts outreach events like Cover Crop Field Day. Local farmers, gardeners, and soil
health enthusiasts came together to “discover the cover” at the NRCS Plant Materials Center
in Corvallis, Oregon. Our main focus today was cover crops and how
they can be used as part of a soil health management system. We are looking at kind
of, some different species and varieties and how to choose those depending on what purposes
you’re going for. And then different aspects of managing them. How to plant them, how and
when to kill them, what kind of mixes can work well, and different effects of those
different types of species and mixes on soil properties. When and how to terminate cover crops is a
common challenge for growers. NRCS shared some best practices and demonstrated a new
piece of equipment called a roller crimper. This machine allows farmers to kill cover
crops without using chemicals—which is a huge benefit for organic farmers. The day also included presentations from the
Benton Soil and Water Conservation District, showing differences in soil properties like
aggregate stability, infiltration and run-off in healthy soil, compared to poor soil. So you can see that where this gets tilled
a lot, if you’re paying for that irrigation water to go on the ground, you’re basically
throwing your money away. This should have very little run-off but there’s a little bit
happening there. But in this soil, you have the water going down into the ground where
you want it to be stored during our kind of dry summers. While there are multiple challenges growers
face with cover crops, the benefits are far and wide. So cover crops–you’re having living roots
in the field year-round, which is feeding the soil microorganisms, you’re increasing
the organic matter, which is increasing the amount of water holding capacity, basically
food for those soil microorganisms. Having diverse cover crops, you’re creating habitat
for a broader variety of soil microorganisms, so you have more of the beneficial microorganisms
that can help combat against some of those less desirable soil microorganisms. They’re
preventing erosion on sloping ground. They’re fertilizing plants by fixing nitrogen, suppressing
weeds. There’s just a whole host of benefits to cover crops. Soil quality pays. Soil health will benefit
the grower. Like we said today, it might take three to five years for some of the benefits
to show up, but consistently, the people who have adopted cover crops and reduced tillage–they
see the benefits. They see improved yield. And many of them are there because they’ve
had reduced cropping systems that are just degraded and they’ve noticed that they can’t
grow crops like they used to. And so soil health pays.

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