Cover crops have been widely adopted in Delaware, largely as a result of USDA-NRCS/Conservation Districts cost share programs. Growers can receive up to $106.28/A based on financial assistance program, watershed, planting dates, planting method, and termination dates. The objective of these programs is water quality, with the cover crops preventing the leaching and off-site movement of nutrients, and recycling them for the next grain crop. The cover crops in the cost-share program can be terminated after March 15th, and most farmers will terminate their cover crop by early April. However, this is before the rapid vegetative growth phase of the cover crops. Delaware farmers are very familiar with cover crops and a large percentage of growers are taking advantage of cover crops. The challenge for our team is to encourage farmers to allow their cover crops to grow later into the spring and realize the additional advantages that can be achieved with the additional growth.
The other challenge facing Delaware is the coordination of activities. There has been a large effort from Cooperative Extension (both Delaware State University and University of Delaware), university researchers, USDA-NRCS, and conservation districts involving cover crops and soil health, but there has been little effort to link these projects for a coordinated outreach effort.
At a meeting on March 11, 2016, with five local farmers who have a keen interest in expanding their use of cover crops on their farms, there was discussion of what type of events/information/training was likely to have the most impact. Field-based sessions were more likely to be successful, but the challenges for scheduling such events and trainings was also discussed. The opportunity of holding more “farm-walks” has the potential to increase participation, but this further highlights the need for better coordination of agency/extension/research to maximize on-going projects.
The goal of this project is to demonstrate the benefit of later termination timing of cover crop and the most current information for cover crop management specific to Delaware. A project coordinator will provide better outreach integration across projects and agencies. In addition, a project coordinator will organize and hold outreach activities at demonstration sites throughout the season.
The project coordinator will:
- Organize and host two workshop for farmers held [one associated with Delaware Ag Week (state-wide event) and one in Georgetown, DE] to learn about soil health and the benefits of cover crops in winter 2016-2017.
- Work with farmers to establish three delayed termination on-farm demonstration sites (one in Fall 2016 and two in 2017).
- Organize and host field days – one in fall 2016 (or spring of 2017 depending on logistics) and at least two in the fall of 2017, at sites selected for delayed termination demonstration sites.
- Organize and host two farmer-to-farmer field walks at the farms of early adopter who are hosting the delayed termination demonstration sites used above (c.).
- Maintain signs and literature at the sites mentioned above (such as project goals, plot description, management tactics) that will allow for famers to revisit the sites on their own.
- Write three timely articles per year (or solicit these articles from other team members). The articles will be published in a range of current newsletters, such as the Weekly Crop Update (published weekly from April through September by UD Extension) and Crossroads (the quarterly newsletter by the Sussex Conservation District).
Initial planning meeting was held in early October 2016. Participants represented University of Delaware Extension and Research, Delaware State University Extension, Sussex County Conservation District, USDA-NRCS, as well as Jennifer Nelson. We had a general discussion of intended cover crop projects for the fall 2016/spring 2017. Sussex Conservation District is planning a spring outreach meeting on cover crops. The group decided to use this meeting as a focal point for the meeting and explored ways to incorporate other research/demonstration/outreach to expand this meeting.
A second planning meeting is scheduled early in 2017 to finalize plans based on success of fall planting and cover crop establishment. Furthermore, Delaware Ag Week will be held in mid-January and participants will be surveyed for specific topics they would like to see discussed at a spring meeting.
Fall 2016: initial meeting of interested individuals (team members, research, extension, agency, and farmers) to discuss ongoing projects and potential sites for spring demonstrations. Two specific sites for these demonstrations and field days will be decided at this initial meeting.
Initial meeting was held and sites were discussed. A second meeting is planned for early winter to finalize plans and sites based on successful establishment of the cover crops.
Fall 2016: Coordinate with cooperating farmers, where the delayed termination demonstrations will be held and prepare for spring management.
Four farmers were approached to serve as potential sites for demonstration of delayed cover crop termination. The sites are at various locations throughout Delaware to allow growers from different parts to observe the sites. There was one site in New Castle County (northern portion of DE) one in Kent County (central portion of the state) and two in Sussex County (southern portion of the state). The New Castle County site was seeded with winter wheat and crimson clover by air then planted with corn; Kent County and one location in Sussex were planted with cereal rye and then planted with no-till soybeans; and the other location in Sussex was seeded to crimson clover and planted to corn.
Winter 2016-2017: Two workshops will be held for farmers, one associated with Delaware Ag Week (state-wide event) and one in Georgetown, DE to learn about soil health and the benefits of cover crops, organized by project coordinator. This will be an indoor, classroom-style training.
Both workshops were held (January 12 and February 15), with the February 15 workshop held at Georgetown targeting farmers who were considering using cover crops for more than nutrient management. Jen Nelson invited three growers to participate as part of a panel discussion, all who had just started to delay termination dates beyond mid-March. In addition, she invited a local equipment dealer to discuss issues associated with machinery adjustments when large amounts of plant biomass are present at planting.
Spring 2017: Delayed termination demonstrations are implemented at the location identified in the Fall 2016, and a field day will be held. Spring is typically a difficult time to coordinate field days since farmers are busy with planting, so we will target only one spring field day for the initial year. Early versus late termination timings, new equipment such as the Air Seeder and ZRX™ cover crop roller/crimper from Dawn Biologic, results from ongoing replicated field trials and other aspects of cover crops will be demonstrated and discussed. Project coordinator will be responsible for coordinating the demonstrations and promoting the field days.
Due to the locations of the sites (along busy roads with limited parking availability) a field day was held at the University of Delaware’s Research and Education Center rather than at one of the farmer-cooperator sites. Utilizing the UD farm allowed us to demonstrate a broader range of topics, since all the farmer sites only had cereal rye planted and all farmers planned on comparison of early and late termination timings. However, as spring time approached, it was not possible to identify a date late enough in the spring in order to have demonstrations to observe and to accommodate farmers in late April who are busy planting corn. So we decided to delay the field day until late summer (August 10) when the summer cash crops were approaching maturity and a chance to see the “end results” of the cover crop demonstrations. Demonstrations included an air-seeder over standing corn and planting with ZRX row-cleaner attachments. Other topics covered included cover crops for weed management, impact of cover crops on pests (insects and plant diseases), interseeding, and planting green (delaying cover crop termination until after planting).
Summer 2017: Planning for fall projects, building upon the success of the spring sessions. This will be more in-depth demonstrations since planning and implementing them will occur prior to planting fall cover crops.
Based on surveys from the the March meeting and discussions at the August field days we identified main topics of interest to farmers to demonstrate for the next set of field days. Choosing the right cover crop/mix had the most interest, followed by early establishment of cover crops, using cover crops for nutrient management, and cover crops for weed management. In addition we have established plots to demonstrate planting green and issues with planting into large amounts of cover crop biomass.
Discussions with farmers to collaborate with field sites have provided us with a range of potential locations for on-farm demonstrations with farmer-cooperators. However, most farmers did not have fields suitable to host a field day, were concerned about the liability of host field days on their farm, or were not willing to allow others to return to their sites throughout the summer to view the plots.
Farmer-cooperators will be used for demonstrations and allow us more experience with cover crops on commercial scale, but only one farmer site will be used for field days. Two UD locations and one DE State University location have been established for field days and will accommodate farmers to return throughout the summer to view the plots. A website has already been established to provide farmers and service providers background on the plots and allow to view the plots as their progress from seedling stage to mature cover crops to cash crop phase (www.DECCnetwork.com)
Fall 2017: Cover crop demonstrations will be established at two sites. The primary focus of these demonstrations will be delayed termination, but other educational demonstrations about cover crop techniques such as different species and seeding rates; comparison of seeding dates; comparison of seeding methods. Experiences with the field day in the spring of 2017 will be considered in selecting the specific locations as well as the specific topics. The project coordinator will work with farmers as described earlier to establishment commercial-scale strip demonstrations to evaluate delayed termination, utility of the Air-Seeder, and cash crop planting strategies.
Winter 2017-2018: Project coordinator finalizes writing and/or editing of three Newsletter articles and releases them for publication.
Spring 2018: Two field-walk visits of the demonstration sites established the previous fall to view the cover crop development and discuss ideas and opportunities with spring management of the cover crops. These will be conducted by the project coordinator.
Fall 2018: Follow up survey of the participants on their use of cover crops on their farms and their intentions for cover crop management in the spring of 2019.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Feb 15 Workshop participants were asked how likely they are to use information learned (on a 0 to 5 scale)
Fine tune planters: 4.05
Manage slugs: 4.05
Farmer panel: 4.33
Soil Health and Weed Management: 4.45
For August 10
Field Research Tour and Demo: 4.35
Cover Crop Rates and Planting Method: 4.44
At this point, we do not have impacts or outcomes to report