Cover crops are an integral part of sustainable agriculture because of their role in soil stewardship, pest management and crop rotation. Many vegetable farmers in the Northeast use cover crops, but their use is typically limited to small grains for preventing winter soil erosion. An educational video featuring 10 farmers using innovative cover cropping techniques was produced to help agency personnel conduct programs on new ideas about cover crop species, management strategies, and potential benefits.
Of the 400 agency personnel that receive the cover crop video, 200 will use it in educational programs that reach at least 2,000 farmers.
A 70-minute educational video was produced that features 10 farms in 5 Northeastern states (MA,NH,NJ,PA,VT) who use innovative cover cropping techniques. These techniques include:
– rye, wheat, oats and/or hairy vetch as winter covers;
– winter rye for strawberry mulch;
– using (and selling shoots or tips of) field peas as spring cover;
– hairy vetch and rye strips grown between crops,
– using vetch and rye strips to suppress potato beetles;
– soil spader for incorporating cover crops;
– maintaining permanent ground cover for wheel tracks;
– living mulch between plastic mulch kept in place for 5 years;
– buckwheat, Japanese millet, and Sudex as summer smother crops;
– long term rotations with cover crops, and leaf mulch;
– white clover strips between crops;
– cover crops for no-till vegetable production.
The television-quality video was completed in May 2004. This project provides copies free-of-charge to agricultural service providers that will use it in educational programs. Otherwise the video may be purchased for $15 postage-paid from the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture. See www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/videos for an order form, or call (802) 656-5459 to order with a major credit card.
In the spring of 2003, farmers were identified, selected, and prepared to participate in the video. An advisory group made up of a farmer (Hank Bissell, VT) an extension professor (Frank Mangan, MA) and a non-profit educator (Eric Sideman, ME) provided input on the planned video content.
Phone and e-mail communications with farmers explained the overall goal of the project and the specific cover crop techniques to be filmed at their farms, as well as instructions regarding filming procedures. A contract was developed and signed between UVM and the collaborating video production company, Workhorse Creative Media.
In summer and fall of 2003, a half-day of filming was scheduled on each of the ten participating farms. The weather required rescheduling only twice. Approximately one hour of raw footage was recorded at each farm. Each farmer gave a brief description of their farm, explained their approach to using cover crops, and described their innovative uses of cover crops. Visual images were captured to show the methods they use and how they fit into the farm’s production and marketing system.
In late fall of 2003, the audio portion of all farm taping was transcribed into text. Portions of the text were then selected to develop an early draft of the video script. The script was transformed into an audio-only draft of the video. This was edited prior to selection and insertion of video images to accompany the audio portion. Editing then continued of both audio and video throughout the winter of 2003-2004. An introduction was recorded, and visuals of farm locations, topics covered, resources available and credits were completed.
A final master of the video was delivered to the technical production company in Spring of 2004. Cover art, layout and logos were designed. Both VHS and DVD (with chaptering) versions were produced. Distribution started in May 2004. Using SARE-PDP state contact distribution lists and the veg-prod extension listserve, agency personnel and agricultural educators were notified that they could order the video free-of-charge.
Performance Target Outcomes
As of October 2005, nearly 300 people had received the video so far, including about 100 farmers. At that time we had a recipient list of 245 people, plus another 20 videos had been distributed to the NE-SARE PDP state coordinators at their July 2004 meeting in Northampton MA, and over a dozen videos were provided to farmers included in the video and to UVM Extension administrators and Extension staff.
Thus, only about half the total number of target beneficiaries (400) have been reached to date, but promotion and distribution of the video is ongoing, through web site and by occasional advertising in industry publications such as Farming and Growing magazine. A recent profile in the NE-SARE newsletter Innovations will add to distribution numbers, as will availability of the video at the national SARE conference in Wisconsin in August, 2006.
There is evidence from previous NE-SARE funded videos that distribution will continue at a steady pace over time; thus far, 948 copies of the weed control video, produced in 1996, have been distributed; 667 diversified marketing videos (1999); 556 ecological sweet corn videos (2001); and 245 innovative cover cropping videos (completed in 2004).
A follow-up evaluation was conducted by e-mail to ascertain how the video was used in educational programs, and how many people were reached by these programs. Ninety-one video recipients responded in total, after two requests for replies. Of these, 73% said they used information in the video in their jobs, and 88% said they showed the video to other people, either by lending it out (53%), at a workshop (15%), in a college class (12%), and/or through other means (shared with employer, other farmers, or consultants; in a high school class; with a farm crew; or with ag in the classroom and 4H). The 91 respondents estimated that they showed the video to a total of 1,860 other people.
The video continues to be used in educational programs that reach farmers, but it is difficult to document the impact of this usage. For example, the video is on the program schedule as part of the 2006 New Jersey Vegetable Conference in Atlantic City. I hope to learn how many people attend, but getting their names and following up is not realistic.
Comments returned on the follow up survey show that you can please some of the people some of the time, but not everybody. The video was too ‘organic’ for some, too ‘conventional’ for others. It was too advanced for some, too basic for others. The farms were to big, or not big enough for some viewers to find the information useful.
Here are selected comments from intended beneficiaries:
“I was disappointed with the video because of its emphasis on organic techniques and system. I am working with field crop (corn, soybean, wheat,hay) production and no-tillpractices on large scale. I’m looking for cover cropping information for my farmers that can be applied on a large scale. Most producers that I work with do not use organic techniques or tillage. Yet, cover cropping is an important component of their no-till field crop production practice.”
“It’s just a really good video to get people thinking about what they can do better on their farm.”
“Though I have not used the tape to date with an audience, I anticipate doing so this winter meeting season.”
“I plan to use it in my winter classes.”
“Showed at 2005 PASA conference at NE SARE exhibit.”
“Video has encouraged fellow sustainable farmers to try the use of cover crops and green manures. Has encouraged them to investigate covers that thrive in our region (Idaho, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada)”
“Though I can not make the direct connection there are now 5 commercial producers in my district using cover crops as part of their soil management. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful resource.”
“I hope to share the video with colleagues soon.”
“Awesome video, trying winter wheat for the first time this fall. Thanks.”
“After watching the video one of my veggie growers said he is inspired to give cover cropping another chance. It’s seeded! Usually this field is bare over the winter.”
“ Used it in an intro horticulture class, will probably use it again this year.”
“My father is a farmer who hates to socialize- would never attend a twilight meeting where others congregate, even if you paid him. He’s been experimenting intercropping with white clover and annual rye on his own farm, and we watched the video together. He is planning to try out some other mixtures as a result, and was really inspired by the video. He especially remarked that it was amazing to him to be able to see what other farmers did, since he would personally never go to their farms and ask. This was an ideal learning tool for him. I advise the local organic gardening club- they borrowed the video and are now excited to do a mini cover-crop demo plot in their garden next spring as a result.”
“Our farmers now understand what cover crops are and how they can use them within their cropping strategies.”
“Tajikistan: 3000 HA farms now practicing cover cropping.”
“I plan to use it this winter during my cover crop presentation.”
“I was looking for a video that would explain the fundamentals of planting a cover crop, i.e. how to choose a cover crop (warm vs cool season), green manuring ves. cover crops, soil preparation, planting techniques- drilling/broadcasting, fertility/ph, covering the seed, when to cut/plowdown, etc. rotations, etc. I wanted a step by step guide to cover cropping. A 20 min. segment in the beginning of the video would have accomplished this. In the southeast, most local farmers have very little knowledge of cover cropping and need some basic training, most cover crops fail due to ingnorance and mis-management. This is a very important topic. Unfortunately, the video left too many unexplained gaps to be very useful for poor, uneducated, or beginning farmers. It was a great video, but it just wasn’t for my audience/ clients.
“Worked with a large acrerage vegetable grower who had major erosion and compaction problems to develop a cover crop system that was implimented this fall. Had been trying to get him to use cover cropping for several years but not before he watched the video would he consider it.”
“I loaned the video to one of our farmers who will be working on new land next year. At the beginning of October he plowed 30 acres and planted winter rye. He also shared the video with two beginning farmers that are apprenticing with him on his farm.”
“Videos are very important to educate FFA, 4H, and kids in general.”
“I found it helpful for my own education. Being able to see crops being dealt with in the field was great.”