Increased use of cover crops in field and vegetable crop rotations through farmer-directed on-farm research and outreach opportunities

Final Report for ONE05-035

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,859.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $22,057.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Ronald Hoover
The Pennsylvania State University
Co-Leaders:
Michele Gauger
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
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Project Information

Summary:

This project focused on increasing growers’ knowledge of cover cropping and challenging them to manage these crops more intensively. Cooperating farmers identified were interested in further developing their knowledge of cover crops and sharing those findings with other farmers. Many tried various cover crop species in the past with fair-to-good results. As these cooperators increased their knowledge of cover crop management, they served as key communicators of their new knowledge to other interested producers and agricultural professionals in the region.

PASA and Penn State conducted a survey at PASA’s 2004 Farming for the Future conference to determine farmers’ interest in various aspects of cover crops. Over 82% of respondents indicated they would like more information on incorporating cover crops to control weeds, while 78% of respondents indicated a strong interest in using cover crops to improve soil fertility. Similar comments were also heard at a PASA field day in 2003, where exit surveys noted a clear desire for more education related to successful cover cropping and effective incorporation.

Along with project advisors, each cooperating producer selected at least one, but not more than two new practices to compare to a standard practice within a replicated study. Cooperators in this project are on the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement. They are always eager to experiment and implement new practices on their farms that will not only benefit their long-term sustainability as farmers, but also the natural environment and their communities. Through education of these farmers about proper cover crop management, they have become a positive example for other producers in the region.

University faculty and staff, conservation program planners, and others with an interest in promoting an increase in cover crop usage recognize the rate of adoption of cover cropping continues to be low. All believe adoption can be accelerated when farmers who practice and benefit from the recommendations contained in that message deliver the message.

Through on-farm research this project addressed questions concerning improved production and profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations. A particular area of interest was the impact of cover crop seeding rate on weed management, which has not been well documented in situations where soil fertility might limit crop production. Weeds can be aggressive invasive plants that can reduce yield and quality of forage crops. Previous research has shown lower seeding rates of cover crop species produce less biomass, which can result in an increase in the weed seed bank.

Introduction:

Recent visits with numerous farmers in Pennsylvania have revealed many are not aggressively managing their cover crop programs. While many producers incorporate cover crops into production systems, there is still important education to be done concerning the management of these valuable crops. Improved management of cover crops may result in large impacts on weed population dynamics, soil quality, yield of cash crops and ultimately farm sustainability. Producers have been identified who are interested in further developing their knowledge of cover crops and sharing those findings with other farmers. These projects were designed to conduct on-farm research that addressed questions concerning improved production and profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations. Some areas for improving cover crop management include increasing seeding rates, optimizing the time of seeding, and selecting better performing species, especially legumes.

Additionally, many farmers continue to broadcast seed on the field surface with little or no additional tillage to incorporate the seed. The result is poor seed-to-soil contact, which often results in uneven germination and establishment of the cover crop. Too often, the prevailing attitude among farmers is “it’s only a cover crop” and mediocre or poor stands are deemed acceptable. Farmers need to realize that they need to give the same attention to cover crops that they give to their cash crops.

Implementing best management practices for soil conservation through cover cropping is likely to reduce the amount of toxic and nutrient-dense inputs (such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers) required to maintain production levels, thus proving economically advantageous to the farmer while reducing non-point source pollution. Many of the problems associated with agricultural pollution can be addressed by improving soil management practices through more intensive cover cropping.

Project Objectives:

• Address questions concerning improved production & profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations.
• A particular area of interest will be the impact of cover crop seeding rates on weed management, which has not been well documented in situations where soil fertility might limit crop production.
• Increased education of cover crop management by considering several factors (including but not limited to) seeding rates, timing of planting, method of planting, & selection of cover species.
• Investigation of how improved management can influence weed populations, soil quality, yield of cash crops, farm profitability & sustainability, organic matter & fertility.
• Outreach to other farmers, educators, researchers, etc. to continue to promote the use & proper management of cover crops.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Aimee & John Good
  • Robert Keller
  • Steve Misera
  • John & Linda Shenk

Research

Materials and methods:

There were four cooperating farms that hosted multiple on-farm trials over the four years of the project (2004 – 2008).

Robert Keller – Penn Valley Farms
Trial 1
Cereal Rye Cover Crop Seeding Rates and Subsequent Soybean Yields

Trial 1 at Penn Valley Farms began in the fall of 2004 comparing seeding rates of cereal rye (biomass data collected), followed by a spring 2005 planting of soybeans (grain yield and moisture data collected), which was then followed by a fall 2005 planting of winter wheat.
Cereal rye is the most widely used cover crop in the Northeast. Many consider it to be the easiest cover crop to grow. While it provides ground cover that aids in minimizing erosion, it gathers nutrients from deeper in the soil profile and helps with weed control through competition primarily for light. Recent studies also indicate that differences in quality and quantity of cover crop can have an effect on populations of seed predators. Also, it has been suggested that for late plantings of rye, higher seeding rates should be used to achieve increased biomass production.

Objective

To compare two seeding rates of a cereal rye cover crop for increases in cover crop biomass and yield of a subsequent soybean crop.

Site Conditions

Cooperator: Robert Keller
Location: Lititz, Lancaster Co.
Soil type: Sandy loam
Previous crop: Corn
Fertilizer: None
Variety: Unknown
Planting date: Rye (early November 2004), Soybean (April 25, 2005)
Seeding rate: Rye (2.25 and 3.75 bu/ac), Soybean (180,000)
Tillage: Rye: disc harrowed twice; Soybean: plow, disc harrow, cultimulcher
Harvest date: Rye cover destroyed with moldboard plow, April 22, 2005;
Soybean (September 27, 2005)

Methods

The field was previously in corn that was combine harvested. Several passes were made with a disk harrow to size the stalks and loosen the soil surface for rye seed drilling. The two treatments used were two seeding rates for the cereal rye cover crop (2.25 bu/ac and 3.75 bu/ac). A 10’ wide drill was used to create plots that were 50 feet wide (5 passes per plot). Plot lengths extended the length of the field which ranged from 300 to 700 feet. The two seeding rates of cereal rye were replicated five times within a randomized complete block design.

Small quadrat sub-samples of cereal rye were hand-clipped to the soil surface, dried, and weighed to determine aboveground biomass yields. The entire field was moldboard plowed, disk harrowed, and cultimulched prior to planting soybean. A 4-row corn planter with 30-inch row spacing was used to plant soybean. All plots were planted with approximately 180,000 seeds of the same variety. The field was rotary hoed and row cultivated twice to control weeds. The entire plot was combine harvested and soybean grain yields determined by transferring grain into a farm gravity bin placed on large-capacity electronic wheel weighers.

Results & Discussion

Overall establishment of the cereal rye cover was good, but due to some heavy corn stover that remained on the field surface in some areas, drill penetration was inhibited and rye establishment and plant density was reduced in these areas. Aboveground biomass samples were taken of the rye, which was then followed by the soybean cash crop and yields collected.
Visual observations of the crop in April 2005 indicated slight differences in stand densities between the two treatments. However, weights of clipped, dried, and weighed herbage revealed no significant difference between the normal and high rye seeding rates for aboveground biomass production.

The soybean crop following the rye cover was harvested in September 2005. The stand was very uniform across both treatments, and plants in both treatments showed good growth vigor and pod development. Again, there was no significant difference in soybean yields across the two treatments. Average yields for both the cereal rye cover crop biomass and soybean grain are summarized in Table 1.

Cereal rye tiller density was not very great by the time the cover crop was sampled and then destroyed in April. As much as 30 to 40 percent of the soil surface remained open by late April. Most of this open space was between the drilled rows; however, some open area was seen in the row where significant corn stover remained at the surface. The corn stover residue served as mulch that prevented the emergence of some seed that was placed into the soil. It also resisted being cut by the lightweight grain drill that was equipped with single disk openers, preventing seed from being placed into the soil.

Table 1. Cereal rye aboveground biomass yields & soybean grain yields in the two treatments.

Data indicated that the real limitation to improving cereal rye cover crop stands and biomass yields is the ability to correctly place seed, not seeding rate. While more complete incorporation of residue into the soil should have permitted the drill to do a better job at planting, this is undesirable as fewer residues on tilled fields only worsens the potential for erosion-related losses of soil and nutrients. Use of a heavier drill that is capable of slicing through residue and placing seed at the appropriate depth in the soil should have results in thicker rye stands.
Further, use of a drill with openers that are spaced closer than the 7 to 8 inches utilized by most manufacturers could also have a positive impact on stand density and early biomass production. In many systems, cover crops are destroyed before they grow large, in an effort to get the next crop planted early to maximize yields. Any increase in early cover crop dry matter production is desirable.

Some benefits of incorporating cover crops into crop rotations are often not immediately visible. While no difference was observed in amount of cereal rye being produced and subsequently added back to the soil in this trial, the expectations are that when growing more cover crop, several benefits will be realized. Among them is that the cover crop will better compete with and reduce weed density and generate more organic matter that will improve soil quality and health. Annual increases in soil quality may be small, but if maintained over time will result in measurable improvements. Increased soil organic matter improves a soil’s ability to hold and release nutrients for crop use. It also increases the soil’s water storage capabilities, and important improvement, especially as short and long-term droughts occur with increasing frequency.

The farmer cooperator was then interested in using this same field to compare varying seeding rates of small grains. Winter wheat was drilled in October 2005 with two varying seeding rates over five replications. Overall establishment of the winter wheat crop was good. In February 2006 nitrogen effluent from a nearby dairy was spread on the field at a rate of 4,500 gallons/acre. Visual observations in April 2006 showed a few bare areas where soybean residue was heavy and wheat establishment suffered. Also in April 2006, tiller counts were conducted on subsamples of the winter wheat. Four subsamples, each consisting of a three-foot length of one row were marked and tillers counted. The higher planting rate treatment contained a significantly higher number of tillers than the lower rate plots (p < 0.05). Averages were 214 and 171 tillers per three-foot length of row, respectively, for the higher and lower seeding rates. Interestingly, the increase in tiller counts for the higher seeding rate did not result in an increase in grain yield at maturity. Both treatments averaged 87 bushels per acre through the combine. Although grain yields were respectable, they could have been 20 to 40 % higher, when compared to other wheat yields in that area of Pennsylvania. After weed control, the production challenge most often cited by organic farmers is the ability to supply enough nitrogen to non-leguminous crops. This was probably another example of a crop that had the potential to use more nitrogen (higher tiller density), but became starved for that nutrient as the crop matured, thereby reducing the harvested yield of wheat grain.

Robert Keller – Penn Valley Farms
Trial 2
Winter Wheat Seeding Rates and Subsequent Yields

Objective
To compare two seeding rates of winter wheat small grain for increases in overall grain yield.

Site Conditions
Cooperators: Robert Keller
Location: Lititz, Lancaster Co.
Soil type: Sandy loam
Previous crop: Rye cover & Soybean
Fertilizer: Nitrogen effluent (4,500 gallons/acre)
Planting date: October 2005
Seeding rates: 2 and 2.75 bu/ac
Tillage: Tandem disk harrow, cultipacker
Harvest date: July 8, 2006

Methods
The field site was previously in soybean that was combine harvested. This trial followed the plot design from previous cereal rye cover crop and soybean studies conducted in the same field.

Several passes were made with a disk harrow to loosen the soil surface for winter wheat drilling. The two treatments, planted in October 2005, used two seeding rates, 2 and 2.75 bushels per acre. A 10 foot wide drill was used to create plots that were 50 feet wide (5 passes per plot). Plot lengths extended the length of the field which ranged from 300 to 700 feet. The two seeding rates of winter wheat were replicated five times within a randomized complete block design.

In February 2006 effluent from a local dairy farm was spread on the field at a rate of 4,500 gallons/acre. Subsamples of winter wheat stem density counts were collected on April 10, 2006 (three foot length of row) in each of the five treatments (10 plots total). The wheat was combine harvested on July 8, 2006. Wheat grain yields and moisture was measured.

Results & Discussion

Overall establishment of the winter wheat crop was good. Visual observations in April 2006 showed a few bare areas where soybean residue lay on the surface and competition with spring annual weed species. Stem density counts did not show any significant differences in winter wheat plant densities.

Winter wheat grain yields also did not show any significant differences between the two different seeding rate treatments.

No significant results in overall winter wheat grain yields were recorded, so it seems that increasing the seeding rate did not have any effect. However, one reason for this may have been the use of two different winter wheat varieties, Pioneer and an unnamed variety.

Materials & Methods

John & Linda Shenk – Shenk Berry Farm
Trial 1 at Shenk Berry Farm compared plantings of three types of clover (Crimson, Mammoth red and Medium red) at varying seeding rates in combination with sorghum x sudangrass hybrid. In the spring of 2006 a planting of strawberries followed these covers.
Trial 1
Clover Cover Crop Varieties and Subsequent Strawberry Production

Objective

To compare three varieties of clovers in combination with sorghum x sudangrass for increases in cover crop biomass, nitrogen production, and subsequent strawberry crop yield.

Site Conditions

Cooperators: John & Linda Shenk, Shenk Berry Farm
Location: Lititz, Lancaster Co.
Soil type: Sandy loam
Previous crop: strawberries
Fertilizer: on-farm produced compost
Planting date: June 28, 2005

Table 2. Seeding Rates
Methods

A total of four treatments were used for the cover crop planting (detailed above). A compact but heavy no-till drill, measuring 5.5 feet wide, was used to create plots that were 45 feet long and eleven feet wide. Ends and borders of the field were planted with sorghum x sudangrass hybrid at 30 lbs/ac. The four treatments were replicated five times within a randomized complete block design.

Throughout the summer, observations were made on the growth of the clovers. The cooperating farmer noted that heat and drought conditions in the summer of 2005 may have hindered clover growth. Prior to plow down in February 2006, compost was applied to the field and then in late March 2006, the field was chisel plowed and disk harrowed to incorporate the cover crops.

Strawberry crowns were then planted in late April 2006. In an effort to gauge nitrogen benefits from the clover covers on the berry plants, leaf tissue samples were taken in September 2006 for nutrient analysis. Based on our cooperating farmer’s observations leaf samples were only taken from crowns planted in the treatment plots using medium red clover (most vigorous growth) and in treatment plots where only sorghum x sudangrass was grown.

Results & Discussion

Overall establishment of each of the three clovers was moderate. Observations made by the cooperating farmer noted the plots with the medium red clover contained more vegetative growth than that in other treatments. The warm, dry conditions during much of that summer may have limited the productive potential of the other clovers. Further, those same conditions may have impacted the overwintering ability of the mammoth red and crimson clovers and the amount of biomass on those plots the following spring.

Observations of the clover after the winter of 2005/2006 were made by the cooperating farmer, who made the decision to plow them under in March 2006 in preparation for strawberry planting. Based on his observations, in the future he would like to try a spring rather than summer planting of clover in hopes the clovers will have a chance to become better established before being stressed by weather conditions.

Instead of applying more nitrogen when the strawberry crowns were planted, our objective was to see if the plants would show any signs of nitrogen deficiency in the varying plots without added nitrogen. This was in an effort to see if one species of clover contributed to more nitrogen into the soil than another. The plants never showed any signs of deficiency and were visually monitored during the spring and summer of 2006, to ensure no plants were lost due to this trial. In September leaf tissue samples were collected from various plots to monitor their nutrient levels. Unfortunately, the results did not show any statistically significant differences.

Also this trial has increased the cooperating farmers’ interest in evaluating leguminous covers to see if they may harbor harmful pathogens detrimental to strawberry production. In October 2006, another field was selected for a trial to investigate this issue, which was currently in a stand of red clover.

Materials & Methods

John & Linda Shenk – Shenk Berry Farm
Trial 2
Evaluation of Red Clover Cover Crops and their Impact on Strawberry Production

Objective

To evaluate the impact of the leguminous, red clover cover crop on subsequent strawberry plant growth, vigor and berry production.

Site Conditions

Cooperators: John & Linda Shenk, Shenk’s Berry Farm
Location: Lititz, Lancaster Co.
Soil type: Sandy loam
Current crop: Red clover
Planting date: October 11, 2006
Seeding rate: Rye (2 bushels/acre)
Tillage: “Rye” treatment: existing red clover was rototilled followed by minimum tillage drilling of cereal rye.
“Rye + red clover” treatment: rye was no-till drilled into plots with the existing red clover.
Harvest date: Spring 2007

Methods

The field site used was an existing red clover cover crop. Three treatments (see Table 3) were investigated and each was replicated three times across the field. The three treatments were; red clover alone (what was already existing in the field), red clover plus rye and rye alone. Some red clover was rototilled, followed by minimum tillage drilling of cereal rye at two bushels per acre into the residue. The combination rye + red clover plots were established by no-till drilling rye into the standing red clover at the same rate. Individual plots measured 8 feet wide (two strawberry rows) and 25 feet long. In the spring of 2007, all vegetation in the field was destroyed by moldboard plowing. Strawberry plants were planted soon after.

Table 3. Cover crop treatments

Results & Discussion

Observation of the treatment plots in late November 2006 showed good establishment of rye in plots where tillage took place and in treatment areas where rye was no-till drilled into existing red clover. Visual observations determined that the rye drilled in plots where the red clover had been rototilled was not as dense as where the rye seed was no-till drilled into the existing red clover. Results of aboveground biomass are detailed in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Dry weights of aboveground biomass harvested April 30, 2007.

The lack of a biomass yield response is indicative of the less-than-ideal seed placement of rye in the rototilled plots; the drill used for all seeding was adjusted for no-till conditions. The depth control mechanism on each opener should have been adjusted for tilled soil. The depth to which rye was place in the rototilled plot was excessive and emergence suffered as a result. Additional support for this observation came in the form of better plant density in the wheel tracks created by the tractor used to pull the drill, where the drill openers did not penetrate as deeply due to compacted soil in those tracks.

As of 2008, the Shenks are using the following crop rotation where strawberries are grown on their farm: 1 – strawberries to fall vegetables, year 2 – clover, year 3 – clover to rye in the fall, year 4 – rye to sudan grass back to rye, and year 5 & 6 strawberries.

Materials & Methods

John & Aimee Good – Charlestown Cooperative Farm & Quiet Creek Farm
In 2005 – Trial 1 at Charlestown Cooperative Farm was unsuccessful at the first attempt using a companion planting of red clover, hairy vetch and rye.
Trial 2 located at Quiet Creek Farm actually began at a previous location, Charlestown Cooperative Farm in 2004/2005. The growers moved to this new location in southeastern Pennsylvania and agreed to remain engaged with the cover crop research. Currently project leaders continued working with the cooperating farmers at this location and the Rodale Institute, on whose farm Quiet Creek Farm is located, to monitor this cover crop trial.

Materials & Methods

John & Aimee Good – Charlestown Cooperative Farm & Quiet Creek Farm
Trial 2
Evaluation of Winter Annual Cover Crop Combinations in Rotation before
Watermelon, Cantaloupe & Tomatoes

Objective
To compare three combinations of winter annual cover crops for increases in cover crop biomass and yield of subsequent cash crops; in this case watermelons, cantaloupes and tomatoes.

Site Conditions
Cooperators: John & Aimee Good (Quiet Creek Farm) and the Rodale Institute
Location: Fogelsville, Berks County
Soil type: Silt loam
Previous crop: Mixed vegetable crops
Fertilizer: None
Planting date: September 21, 2006 (all cover crops)
Treatment 1 Rye (90.5 lbs/ac)
Hairy vetch (32.8 lbs/ac)
Treatment 2 Rye (90.5 lbs/ac)
Hairy vetch (26 lbs/ac)
Red Clover (10.85 lbs/ac)
Treatment 3 Rye (90.5 lbs/ac)
Austrian winter pea (53.8 lbs/ac)
Crimson clover (12 lbs/ac)
Tillage: Disked twice with a heavy tandem disk to incorporate mixed vegetable
crop residue
Harvest date: Spring 2007

Methods
The field site was previously in mixed vegetable crops and was disked with a heavy disk on September 21, 2006 to ensure incorporation of the remaining vegetable crop residues. All cover crops were also planted on September 21, 2006 with a John Deere 450 grain drill (17 hoe drill), 10 foot wide (2 passes per treatment plot). Each plot measured 20 feet wide and 177 feet long. There were a total of three cover crop treatments with 4 replications.

Results & Discussion

This trial was begun with high expectations, but ended poorly as cover crop data that were collected are unavailable at this writing due to unforeseen layoffs of staff at the Rodale Institute who oversaw the trial there and managed the data collection.

Unfortunately no cash crop yields were measured due to time restraints on the farmers’ behalf. But by visual observations they noticed no difference in vegetable crop yields between the cover crop treatments.

Materials & Methods

Steve Misera – Misera Organic Farm
Trial 1
Cover Crop Combinations at Varying Seeding Rates and Subsequent Organic Grain Crop Yields

Objective

To compare seeding rates of five different cover crop combinations for increases in biomass production, competition with weed populations and impacts on subsequent cash crop yields.

Site Conditions

Cooperators: Steve & Lisa Misera, Misera’s Organic Farm
Location: Butler, Butler Co.
Soil type: Sandy clay loam with shale
Previous crop: Rye
Fertilizer: Lime (2 tons/acre)
Planting date: September 18, 2006
Tillage: Moldboard plow, disk, cultimulch
Harvest Date: Spring 2007

Methods
The field site used was previously in rye. Recent soil tests indicated that soil pH was below 6; lime was applied to the field at a rate of two tons per acre. The field used was prepared for the cover crop planting by moldboard plowing, disking, and then followed by one pass with a cultimulcher. The five treatments used were various combinations of cover crops with recommended seeding rates (see Table 4). A seven-foot wide drill was used to create plots that were 250 to 300 feet long by 14 feet wide. The five treatments were replicated three times across the field within a randomized complete block design.

Table 4. Cover crop species and seeding rates used for 2006/07on-farm trials at Misera’s Organic Farm in Butler County, PA.

Results & Discussion

Visual observations of the cover crop establishment in November 2006 were positive. All plots had good establishment of the species planted. Hairy vetch had reached an average height of approximately 3-4 inches, where the Austrian winter pea plants had attained a height of 4-5 inches. The hairy vetch also showed signs of hardening off in the colder weather. Visually there was also a difference in the species of rye used. Two lots of rye were used in this trial (Aroostock Rye sourced from a PA certified rye seed grower and some rye seed produced on the Misera farm, variety not stated). There were visible color differences between these two. Some light deer pressure was also observed on the oats.

In May 2007 aboveground biomass samples were cut from two ¼ square meter quadrats. Figure 2 details the dry weights of each cover crop treatment.

Figure 2. Aboveground biomass yields for cover crops at Misera’s Organic Farm (harvested May 11, 2007)

Biomass yields from the five treatments were not significantly different. Corn grain yields also were not significantly different from one another; however, there were trends toward higher yields where corn followed cover crops that contained legumes (Table 5.)

Table 5. Corn grain yields following various cover crops at Misera farm (2007).

Materials & Methods

Steve Misera – Misera Organic Farm
Trial 2
Cover Crop Combinations at Varying Seeding Rates and Subsequent Organic Grain Crop Yields

A second cover crop trial was begun during fall 2007. In this trial, rye was included in all treatments. Also, partially composted horse manure and from Steve’s beef herd was also added to the rye and a rye/oat/hairy vetch treatment to determine to what extent extra fertility (especially nitrogen) will increase the amount of cover crop biomass that will be grown through spring 2008. Manure was applied at the rate of 11,000 pounds per acre. This field previously was in small grain and later, buckwheat. The crop residues and manure were plowed in late August. On September 6, 2007, the field was seeded with a conventional grain drill to the cover crops outlined in Table 6.

Table 6. Cover crop species and seeding rates used for 2007/08 on-farm trials at Misera’s Organic Farm in Butler County, PA.

Results & Discussion

The cover crops in this plot grew well during the fall of 2007 and overwintered well based on plant condition in spring 2008. Sampling with quadrats revealed no significant differences between the treatments, although the rye with manure treatment did produce about 10 % more biomass than the next highest yielding treatment (Table 7). It appears that the amount of nitrogen provided to the rye by the manure may have been greater than that supplied by the legumes in the other three treatments.

Table 7. Cover crop biomass yields from 2007/08 on-farm trials at Misera’s Organic Farm in Butler County, PA.

As of January 2009, the corn crop had not yet been by the host farmer. No yield data is available at this time.

Research conclusions:

The core of this project’s outreach approach centered on field days and the PASA conference workshops and publications; i.e. organizational newsletters, Internet web pages.

One of the cooperating farms, Charlestown Cooperative Farm hosted a field day in October 2005 entitled “Cover cropping to improve soil quality, manage weeds and improve production.”
A total of 20 individuals attended the event and results of an exit survey showed increased understanding of various topics presented at the field day. About half indicated they were “very likely” to make a change in their farming operation concerning; timing of cover crop seeding, better species selection and development of a proper rotation and/or mixes. Twelve also responded that they now had better understanding of the effects of cover crops on weed suppression and the importance of a proper rotation.

Shenk Berry Farm hosted a field day in July 2006 entitled “Tools and Methods for Strawberry Production.” A total of 36 individuals (excluding the presenters), 15 of which were active producers, attended the event and results of an exit survey showed increased understanding of various topics presented at the field day.
About half indicated they “plan to make a change” in their farming operations as a result of something they learned. Some of these changes included incorporating clover cover crops into their rotations, beginning a weed management program, and learning more about pest and fungus control. Around 60% of those in attendance indicated a desire for more education on these topics in the future and were inspired to “be more active in topics discussed at this field day.”

Two field days and one conference workshop were held during 2007 to teach others about the research being conducted on our partnering farms, as well as the value of using cover crops.
The conference workshop was held in February 2007 at the annual Farming for the Future conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). Overall the conference attracted about 1,700 individuals over the course of three days. The presentation entitled “Cover Crop Selection for Weed Control” was well attended by about 180 participants, which is a sizeable number since there was 8-10 other workshop sessions happening concurrently.

The presentation included Dave Wilson of the Rodale Institute discussing considerations when selecting a particular cover crop species, what is one hoping to accomplish and what does each of the more often-used cover crops provide when used. Additional presenters included Ron Hoover, On-Farm Research Coordinator with Penn State and Bill Curran, Weed Scientist with Penn State; both discussing fertility considerations, planting depth and cover crop management (rolling, mowing and plowing). This workshop reached a varied audience of full and part time farmers, as well as ag professionals, home gardeners and consumers.

Field days were held in May 2007 at Steve Misera’s farm in Butler, Pennsylvania and at Aimee and John Good’s operation at Quiet Creek Farm/The Rodale Institute.

The field day at Misera’s Organic Farm was entitled “Cover Crops and the Diverse Organic Farm.” The field day attracted a total of 20 individuals (excluding the presenters), 15 of which were active producers. About half indicated they “plan to make a change” in their farming operations as a result of something they learned. Some of these changes included incorporating clover cover crops into their rotations, beginning a weed management program, and learning more about pest and fungus control. Around 60% of those in attendance indicated a desire for more education on these topics in the future and were inspired to “be more active in cover crop topics discussed at this field day.”

The second field day held at Quiet Creek Farm (on the grounds of the Rodale Institute) attracted 45 participants. The field day entitled “The Rodale Institute: Compost, Cover Crops and Orchards” covered a variety of topics, including the research being conducted by cooperating farmers on this grant, Aimee & John Good. Both the Goods, Dave Wilson of the Rodale Institute and Ron Hoover, On-Farm Research Coordinator at Penn State detailed various topics and research being conducted at the farm. Of the 21 surveys returned, 33% were full time farmers and 95% indicated they were interested in making a change in their current farming rotations to include cover crops and they plan to seek more information on the topic.

A related field day was coordinated by Penn State University entitled “Cover Crop Summit” that was held in June. Over 100 were in attendance at this event.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Outreach to facilitate farmer to farmer exchange is a key component to the success of these projects, so descriptions and photos of the trials have been added to the PASA and Penn State on-farm research website and will continue to be updated with plot plans, additional photos and other pertinent information.
The information shared at these events and other outlets is important information exchange with county extension, conservation district and other ag related professions. They have also been a resource for farmers to learn more about cover crop management under varying conditions.
Already we have begun fielding inquiries and interest in more projects related to cover crop systems in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. As the projects progress and further outreach is done via printed and web-based resources, as well as workshops and field days, we look forward to sharing our results.

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.