Progress report for ENC20-193
Cover crop adoption is rapidly increasing as is an important agricultural tool in progressing to a more sustainable future. Cover crops reduce nutrient loss and soil erosion while building farmer resiliency for a more variable climate. It is the mission of the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) to facilitate successful adoption of cover crops in the North Central Region and beyond. Continually expanding the reach and use of MCCC’s suite of freely available cover crop resources by cover crop decision-makers, users and non-users alike is critical to increasing cover crop adoption and use. This proposal will facilitate the growth of the MCCC into broader target audiences through professional development of Extension educators, crop advisors, agri-businesses and NRCS professionals. The MCCC will conduct a minimum of six in-person trainings for farm advisors who may not be confident making cover crop recommendations, four in-person networking events for cover crop experts with follow-up conference calls, and eleven live webinars that will be recorded and posted to the MCCC website for general agricultural stakeholders and the public. This strategy of targeting a diverse audience is the best approach to increasing awareness of available cover crop educational materials and tools. A portion of this project will be used to ensure that MCCC resources such as the cover crop decision tool are kept up-to-date and delivery of resources remain current and relevant. The use of relevant, research-based cover crop information will ultimately lead to increased successful cover crop adoption and improved environmental sustainability.
For the national meetings we anticipate 150 participants at each of two trainings. These participants will be educators and government employees that work directly with farmers and whom don’t feel confident giving basic cover crop recommendations. The national conferences that MCCC will target to present cover crop training include National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA), Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), and National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).
At the state cover crop trainings, MCCC anticipates 50 participants from Extension and government from each of four states (KS, MO, NE, IN) for a total of 200 participants. These trainings again will be marketed toward educators with close contact to farmers who don’t feel confident giving basic cover crop recommendations.
Decision tool update meeting invitations will be extended to cover crop experts including Extension specialists, educators, NRCS, SWCD, seedsmen, and farmers with strong cover crop experience. The number of experts in these meetings is variable by state, but we plan for 12-15 per state. With this estimate we will provide professional development to approximately 55 cover crop specialists across four states.
MCCC anticipates 50 participants in each of eleven webinars, for a goal of 550 connections. The webinars will be marketed toward Extension, government employees, and crop advisors but will be open to farmers and the general public. These webinars will be posted and additional views will be tallied.
The physical products of this project include several resources that will keep the MCCC relevant. The decision tools for Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Indiana will be updated with the latest state-wide recommendations for cover crops. The decision tool will also have the capability to link with additional cover crop tools that are currently under development by board members. This interoperability will be tested with these tools. The cover crop pocket field guide will be revised and free copies distributed to the first 50 registrants of the webinar.
The educational approach for the components of the project completed so far are very straightforward. Our team revised the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide to be used as an educational reference. This is a printed guide that can be used by educators and farmers alike for self study or quick reference. We reviewed the revisions to the guide in a live webinar. This served as a summary of the guide.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
The objective of this initiative was to revise the second edition of the cover crop field guide and summarize changes to the guide in a live webinar.
The revision of the Cover Crops Field Guide took a committee of ten several months of information gathering and discussion. Experts in various fields were consulted to ensure the most accurate and current research and information were included in the new guide. The third edition field guide has approximately 25% more content than the second edition. There were three cover crop species added to the guide as well as a section on species that are currently used in a cover crop mix that included an additional ten species.
A webinar summarizing changes to the guide was presented live, to inform clients of what new information was available in the field guide. The webinar was recorded and posted to the MCCC website for later viewing.
Educational & Outreach Activities
At this early point in the project, the primary outcome is the revision of the Cover Crops Field Guide. This reference will be used by MCCC and our network to coach new cover crop adopters. Over 62,000 copies of the second edition field guide have been purchased, so we anticipate a strong demand for the third edition guide.
Groundwork has been done to prepare for additional initiatives in the project, but there are no reportable products or educational impacts. The Covid-19 pandemic did disrupt planning for some initiatives that rely heavily on in-person networking and instruction. Updates to the Kansas cover crop decision tool have been scheduled to take place in the upcoming year, and the Missouri team is currently working on updates to their tool. An agricultural informatics lab has been identified at Purdue University and they will begin developing an application programming interface (API) to address interoperability of decision support tools when an appropriate candidate can be hired. The cover crop modules for crop advisors webinars have been scheduled and the presentations will be made available on the MCCC website.