Building Knowledge of Cover Cropping Techniques for Increased Adoption Rates

Final report for EW17-014

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $52,172.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Trina Walley
East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District
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Project Information

Abstract:

The NRCS Plant Materials Center (CAPMC) in Lockeford, CA serves as a research and education center for sustainable farming practices for California.  California agriculture has struggled with low adoption rates for soil health practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops, and irrigation/nutrient management.  The first phase will provide training at the CAPMC for NRCS, UCCE, and RCD conservationist in California.  This training has been developed to include Cover Crop Selection, Planters, Seeding Rates and Species Identification, Weed Control, Pollinators, IPM, Organic Systems and Management Strategies.  These professionals will then be invited to host a demonstration and training in their regions. 

Project Objectives:

The long term goal of this project is to increase knowledge of cover cropping techniques and impacts of water and soil quality in order to increase the adoption rate of the practice in California.  To achieve this goal, the following objectives will be met

Fall 2017 prepare for statewide training by planting cover crop demonstrations at the CAMPC.  The objective of the preparation is to provide a full agenda of training to qualify for official NRCS training calendar.

  1.  Spring 2018 statewide training to be held at CAPMC for conservationists and agriculture professionals.  The objective of this training is to develop the technical knowledge of NRCS, UCCE, RCD and other agricultural professionals to understand and promote the use of cover crops.
  2. Fall 2018 work with conservationist on implementing regional demonstrations plots of cover cropping techniques learned at the CAPMC training.  The objective of these demonstrations is to develop regional trainings for agricultural professionals and to further develop cover cropping techniques using CAPMC research results in different crops and climatic regions of California.
  3. Spring 2019 hold regional trainings at demonstration plots established in the fall to provide access to additional conservationists, UCCE, RCD and other agricultural professionals not able to attend previous training as well as farmers.  The objective of theses trainings is to provide hands-on educational events to promote and understand the use of cover crops to improve water and soil quality.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Margaret Smither Kopperl (Educator and Researcher)
  • Hudson Minshew (Educator)
  • Tom Johnson (Educator)
  • Mandy Parks (Educator)
  • Holly Shiralipour (Educator)
  • Joshua ELke (Educator)
  • Nathan Harkleroad (Educator and Researcher)
  • Billy Synk (Educator and Researcher)

Education

Educational approach:

This project’s first phase will provide training at the CAPMC for NRCS, UCCE, and RCD conservationist in California. This training has been developed to include Cover Crop Selection, Planters, Seeding Rates and Species Identification, Weed Control, Pollinators, IPM, Organic Systems and Management Strategies. These professionals will then be invited to host a demonstration and training in their regions.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Spring 2018 Training
Objective:

The objective of the preparation is to provide a full agenda of training to qualify for official USDA NRCS training calendar to provide a statewide training for agriculture professionals.

Description:

Fall 2017 prepared for statewide training by planting cover crop demonstrations at the CAMPC.  Collaborated with USDA NRCS to develop training agenda that included topics relating to cover crops that would benefit agricultural professionals.  Started collection of training materials and research material to include in training manuals which include materials from USDA, The Xerces Society, partners, industry and research.

Spring 2018 training held at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Material Center.  Partner agencies throughout the state were invited to participate in a full day training on cover crops.

Topics included cover crop choices, maturation dates, mixture selections, weed control, pollinators and beneficial insects, IPM, management and termination strategies.  2018 Training Agenda Final

Outcomes and impacts:

Training agenda was approved for USDA NRCS staff to attend to achieve job approval authority for Cover Crop (conservation practice 340).  This level of training is typically only available to NRCS staff but will now be offered to UCCE, RCD and other agricultural professionals.

There were 43 attendees from USDA NRCS, University of California Cooperative Extension, Resource Conservation Districts, Tribal, Non-profits and Industry Leaders.   18 attendees receive Job Approval Authority from USDA NRCS to assist and certify cover crop practices for their area office.

Eight attendees expressed interest in providing demonstrations and workshops in their regions.

Fall 2018 Regional Cover Crop Demonostrations
Objective:

To provide regionally located cover crop demonstrations in farming systems that are regionally important to provide a training tool for agricultural professionals and farmers on adaptation of cover crops.

Description:

Summer 2018 began planning with 10 sites for regional demonstrations including Yuba City, 2 in San Diego, Redlands, Tulelake, 2 in Victorville, Fowler, Modesto and Salinas.  8 of the sites moved forward with planting winter cover crops in October 2018.  Tulelake site was the only site not to germinate due to cold weather.

7 of the sites were used for cover crop workshops (6 with WSARE funding and 1 with partner funding).  The below chart shows site location, crop type represented and seed mix used:

Site Crop Type Seed Mix
Redlands San Bernardino citrus orchard (Greenfield sandy loam, 8” annual precip.) –34 lbs. of conventional clover mix (preferably treated with inoc.)

–2 lbs. of conventional daikon radish

+Valerie (approx.) suggested Persian (25%), balansa (20%), berseem (20%), crimson (15%), rose (15%), daikon radish (5%)

 

Modesto junior college Urban grass plot Variety of plots were planted to demonstrate the growth rates and weed/pest management.  Included a clover mix, a mustard mix and a biomass mix.
Salinas – ALBA Cover crop plot, but where lettuce, alfalfa and/or other row crops might grow 45% ‘merced’ rye, 27.5% lana vetch, 27.5% purple vetch, at 160 lbs/ac

 

Victorville – Jujube Jujubes 10 lbs. of organic red clover and 10 lbs. of organic crimson clover
Victorville – Row Crop Radish, beet, squash, and others rotation 12 lbs. organic Merced rye, 6 lbs. organic lana vetch, 2 lbs. organic yellow and white mustards
Fowler Walnut orchard and a vineyard 10ac in PAm Mustard Mix, 10ac in PAm Clover Mix, and 10ac in Lana vetch
Tulelake Potatoes and onions All numbers in lbs

Annual Ryegrass-2

Daikon Radish-2.5

· Frostmaster Pea-2

· Dutch White Clover-1

· Purple top turnip-3

· Riley Intermediate Ryegrass-2

· Organic Hairy Vetch-5.5

· Organic Merced Ryegrain-13 lbs

 

 

Outcomes and impacts:

Demonstration sites provided a good regional representation of crop types, soil types and seed mixes for local partners and farmers/ranchers to see a cover crop implemented.  Demonstration sites also brought together local and statewide partners to provide input on implementation which included USDA NRCS, local resource conservation districts, industry, and non-profits such as Xerces and project apis m.

Tours were offered to farmers, ranchers and partners that were interested in cover crops but unable to attend future field days.  This resulted in many one-on-one consultations that could lead to future implementation and partnerships to do additional demonstrations and field days.  Although there are no grants and projects to build upon these demonstrations at this time to report, ESRCD is confident that the right funding source and opportunity will present itself through established partnerships.

Plots at Modesto Junior College
Diect seeding at Tulelake Demonstration
Spring 2019 Regional Cover Crop Trainings
Objective:

To proved regional cover crop trainings for professionals unable to attend the statewide trainings offered and farmers/ranchers access to the same level of training.

Description:

Post-planting for each demonstration site, the partners at each site worked on creating training materials and field day agenda.  Started collection and copying of training materials and research material to include in training manuals which include materials from USDA, The Xerces Society, partners, industry and research.

Spring 2019 trainings held in Redlands, Salinas, Modesto, Victorville, and Fowler.  Partner agencies and farmers from the region were invited to participate in the training on cover crops.  Two of the workshops were offered in languages needed to address the local farming community (Korean in Victorville and Spanish in Salinas). 2-28_CoverCrop_flyer_Spanish Cover Crop Workshop Agenda March 2019

Topics included cover crop choices, maturation dates, mixture selections, weed control, pollinators and beneficial insects, IPM, management and termination strategies. 3-12_CoverCrop_flyerR Modesto cc workshop agenda

Outcomes and impacts:

The regional demonstrations and trainings reached 143 professional and farmers at the trainings, an additional 93 consultations offered outside of the  trainings, and 268 views since March 2019 of online training video.  The long term impact of the individuals reached by this project will result in more implementation of cover crops in California.

Conservation professionals that attended the trainings have the knowledge needed to assist landowners in selecting a cover crop mix, communicate the benefits, and guide management decisions.  The farmers that attended the trainings have expressed intent to use cover crops in the next year which will result in more implementation of cover crops.

Redlands Workshop
Modesto Junior College Workshop

Educational & Outreach Activities

93 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 On-farm demonstrations
5 Tours
9 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days
2 Training Agenda and Informational Binder for Cover Crops in California, Video training "Introduction to Cover Crops" posted online

Participation Summary

10 Extension
26 NRCS
5 Researchers
12 Nonprofit
16 Agency
12 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
72 Farmers/ranchers
268 Others

Learning Outcomes

75 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
81 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

15 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

There were many learning outcomes to be had by all parties involved, and additionally the outcomes themselves were multi-faceted.  First off, we learned that effective communication in your target audience’s native language was paramount to the overall conveyance of knowledge, as well as transition to implementation and adoption of cover cropping as a practice.  For instance, with assistance from our local NRCS and RCD partners, we were able to translate workshop flyers, handouts, etc. into Spanish and Korean—these workshops were our most heavily attended, and the number of farmers beginning to implement or adopt cover cropping was highest percentage- and number-wise, at those workshops.

Workshop attendees, and those individuals that the soil health coordinator and others connected with outside workshops, were able to not only garner general and specific knowledge about cover crops, e.g. choosing of species, seeding and termination, etc.; but they were also able to connect with researchers, scientists, and other experts at a one-on-one level and get contact information from those folks so that they have added potential avenues to obtain knowledge and advice in order to help them manage their respective productions systems.  In addition to the human resources, we created folders with documents containing information about cover cropping, as well as many correlating topics, e.g. integrated pest management, nutrient management; pollinators and beneficial insects, species lists and descriptions, and lists of online resources.

7 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
165 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

California has once again proven that it has extreme heterogeneity of agriculture in CA in terms of production systems, as well as microclimates and soil types” and thus locations with extreme diurnal and/or seasonal temperature and/or precipitation fluctuations should be given ample time for research of best species and optimal planting times.  Tulelake was a site that we used the general guidance for planting and seed mixes from USDA NRCS that did not work for their specific climate and soil resulting in no germination of cover crop planted.

Success stories:

There were multiple success stories facilitated by this grant work. First off, there was a large commercial fruit producer in the Central Valley that had started clipping and shading in some orchards, but was cautious about using cover crops due to a lack of experience.  Due to our technical assistance and ability to connect him with multiple experts such as pollinator biologists from Xerces Society and Project Apis m, the multi-thousand acre farm was able to successfully implement cover cropping as a practice in walnut orchards as well as vineyards.  Next, the citrus farmer near Redlands compared pre-emergent herbicide to cover crops, and has decided to go with cover-cropping!  At the moment, the Soil Health Coordinator is consulting the farmer and traveling down there for technical assistance for maintenance and termination. Finally, the Korean jujube farmers that attended our workshop and farm tour have ALL agreed to try cover crops, and we are now helping them obtain seed and more technical assistance.

Recommendations:

We have recognized there continues to be needs within the educational resources for cover crops to be adopted more widely:

o   Materials in other languages

o   More one-on-one technical assistance over a longer period of time

·       Cover cropping as a practice often can take 3-5 years to successfully implement

·       This is especially true on sandy and/or low OM soils

o   Money for more seed so larger commercial operations can participate

o   Money for drill-seeders

·       Communities need the equipment, lots of people giving them money for nails (cover crop seed) but very little if any to buy the hammer (drill-seeder)

o   Most important—must make grant that covers a full season of cover crop workshops from drill seeding to termination as a field day with hands on learning.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.