I am in a farming partnership with my father. The partnership name is R, C & A Hart Farms and we farm in southeastern Minnesota. We raise corn, soybeans, sweet corn, peas, lima beans and hay.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Before receiving this SARE grant I had been working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on a similar cover crop program. The reason we decided to do the MDA program was to expand out cover crop practices on vegetable crop fields, i.e. pea and sweet corn fields. We want to show how a cover crop farming practice will reduce wind and water soil erosion, improve water quality, improve soil tilth and build organic matter while promoting land stewardship. We want to be able to share our findings with neighbors and other farmers who are interested in soil conservation and land stewardships on canning crop fields. We feel this project is important because there are over 35,000 acres of pea and sweet corn acres planted in southeastern Minnesota in the year 2001. Most of these acres are left open to wind and water erosion for 7 to 10 months out of the year. An example of this is an early planted pea crop. It can be planted in mid April and harvested in mid June, then left untouched until the following April when it is planted to another crop. Without a cover crop this field is subject to wind and water erosion for 10 months before you plant another crop. By using a cover crop you protect this soil from wind and water erosion and help to build organic matter.
I believe this system of using cover crops will help our farm continue to be profitable in the future. We are able to reduce machinery costs by no till planting field corn into these fields the following spring. The soils in these cover crop fields have better soil structure and organic matter because of the cover crop environment. This makes the soils excellent for no till planting. We can conserve and manage residue easily, reduce soil erosion and moisture loss. Machinery and labor costs are also less.
The reason we applied for the SARE grant was to be able to offer a $7.00 per acre cost incentive payment to neighbor farmers in the Zumbro River watershed who would be willing to plant a cover crop on the sweet corn or pea fields after they have been harvested. Several neighbors have been interested in what we have been doing for years but have not had the little extra incentive to try it for themselves. The $7.00 per acre was enough of a payment to have several neighbors try the cover cropping program and all of them have continued it even after the first year payment was made.
The cover crop program was set up as follows. Each farmer was limited to a $7.00 per acre payment on up to 100 acres. The farmer could plant an oat or barley cover crop on these fields until September 1, 2001. After September 1, 2001 winter rye was used as the cover crop. The winter rye will not winter kill, it will grow to provide a good cover crop the following spring. The cover crop fields were evaluated in the spring after planted and 30% residue was required on these planted fields to receive the $7.00 per acre payment.
I did have a field day on August 30, 2001 and approximately 35 to 40 people attended the field day. I explained the SARE program and also explained my MDA demonstration plot and why I am doing it. The other speakers included Claron Krogness from the Olmsted County NRCS office. He talked about the soil conservation program that I was doing and how it affects the Zumbro River Watershed and other programs NRCS is offering.
If I had to describe my project to an interested neighbor I would explain the importance of using cover crops to control water and wind erosion. I would explain my goal of building organic matter, soil structure and a conservation plan that includes canning crops. I would invite him to visit the demonstration plot, attend the field day and look over the data I have gathered so far. I would challenge him to try this cover crop system for himself.
I am sharing the results of this project with all who will listen. I am working closely with both the Olmsted and Wabasha County NRCS offices. I am working with the Whitewater River Watershed Project and Land Stewardship Project. I am also working with Lakeside Foods, a local canning company, that is interested in this cover crop system for it’s growers in southeastern Minnesota. I have also set up a web site with information and pictures of my SARE program and my MDA demonstration plot. The internet access is www.angelfire.com/mn2/rca.