Enhancing Soil Health with Cover Crops in North Dakota: Training Program

2016 Annual Report for ENC15-142

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $71,012.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: North Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Marisol Berti
North Dakota State University

Enhancing Soil Health with Cover Crops in North Dakota: Training Program


Research in cover crops management practices and soil health benefits has been going on for at least the last five years in North Dakota.  Research plots and a few on-farm research trials initiatives have generated interesting information but cover crop adoption is been very slow.  It is our goal to bring to county agents and farmers the knowledge acquired by NDSU researchers. Our proposal has the two main components of a successful educational project: 1) Good and complete local information collected in the field through replicated trials and on-farm experiences and out of state workshops and conferences, and 2) farmers in the Red River Valley (RRV) eager to learn about cover crops management and benefits. Adopting cover crops in the RRV is not easy because most of the area is planted to corn and soybean in no-till and both crops are harvested too late in the season to plant a cover crop.  Our target audience will be farmers mainly from SE North Dakota but not limited to that area.  We propose to train county extension agents and farmers about management and benefits of cover crops. We seek an increase in adoption and the integration of cover crops into existing cropping systems to increase resiliency. As a result of this project, at least 10 county agents and 70 farmers in North Dakota will learn about cover crops and soil health in several activities. Incorporating cover crops in their practices will have a tremendous impact in soil health and other ecosystem services.


Objectives/Performance Targets

The main goal of this project was to bring to county agents and farmers the knowledge in cover crops acquired by NDSU researchers. The objectives and performance targets have been met.



In order to meet this objective a series of activities were conducted including workshops, Train-the –Trainer, field days, winter meetings, Demo plots

Field days

  1. Cover crops field tour and workshop, 2 October 2015, Fargo ND (51 participants)

 In the field tour we had 16 cover crops planted on 21 July and 15 crops planted on 20 August (Biomass yield, N and P uptake).  In the Cover Crops and Soil Health Workshop, participants learned about root structure, porosity, aggregation, bulk density, soil biology, earthworms. Participants: farmers, county agents, graduate students, cover crops seed industry, ARS-USDA, and NRCS-USDA

  1. Cover crop field day, Toussaint’s Farm, 27 October, 2015, Wahpeton, ND. (40 people)

The farmer showed three of his field one drilled with cereal rye after soybean harvest (early maturing variety), a field that was aerially seeded with rye, radish and crimson clover on standing corn, and a field with cereal rye that was harvested for seed. Volunteer rye will stay until next year to plant sunflowers on it.

  1. Cover crop Tour, Soil Conservation District, Forman and Rutland, ND Sargent County. 9 October, 2015 (100 participants). Several cover crops mixes were planted at the CCSP farm and three farmers’ fields planted to cover crops were visited.
  2. Soil health and cover crops field day at the SHARE-NDSU farm in Rutland and Delamere, ND. 27 September 2017 (135 participants)
  3. Field day, cover crop interseeding demonstration, Gardner, ND,  7 July 2016 (42 participants).
  4. Cover crop interseeding into sunflower, 18 July 2016, Dwight, ND (15 participants)

 Four cover crop mixes were interseeded in sunflower at a farmer’s field. Cover crops mixes were intended to increase the diversity for pollinators.

  1. Field demonstrations , visiting farms with cover crops Milnor (15 participants), Delamere (22 participants), and Forman (20 participants)
  2. Cover crop field day 18 August 2016 Dickinson, ND (18 participants). Demo plots were planted in July.
  3. Field day cover crop tour Highlights Grazing and Soil Health Benefits, 19 August 2016 Streeter, ND, (13 participants)
  4. Cover crop field day 4 October, 2016 Fargo, ND, (72 participants)

– In the field tour we had 24 cover crops planted at two seeding dates July 28 and August 20 to show differences in growth among warm- and cool-season cover crops.  Also, a study of cover crops interseeded into soybean at R1 and R4 was shown.  A new twin row high clearance cover crop interseeder was shown at the field day.

  1. Cover crop field day at Conservation Cropping Systems Project farm 7 October 2016, Forman, ND, During the field day cover crops intercropped into corn were shown .Also several farmers’ fields with cover crops were visited some had been interseeded with a Hagie planter, corn and soybean aerially seeded with rye, and a cover crop full season forage mix. (50 participants)
  2. Using Cover Crops in Rotation – Tour of Wagner and Wilson Farms 27 October 2016 (100 participants)
  3. Cover Crops and Soil Health – Tour for NDSCS Students 25 October 2016 (100 participants)

 Workshops and professional training

-2016 Northeast Extension Ag. Agent Research and extension update. Cover crops extension agents training, 26 August 2016, Langdon, ND (10 participants)


-Cover crops workshop and Train the Trainer, March 9-10 Fargo, ND (44 participants)

Workshops and handouts have been taught by professional’s experts in cover crops, Jay Fuhrer, Hal Weis, Guiping Wang, Lee Briese, Dave Franzen, Abbey Wick and Marisol Berti.

 Contents of the workshops included:

-Identification of cover crops in pots, 35 cover crops were grown in pots and attendees were taught how to identify the plants and seeds. A pre-test to assess baseline knowledge was administered, then followed by a post test of ID. Most participants improved they knowledge in 50%. Also group activities to select cover crops mix according to cover crops functions and seed price were done.

– Topics covered in the workshops by experts were:  Cover crops grazing,  cover crops selection and mixes, cover crops interseeding on standing soybean and corn, methods of interseeding, soil health improvement, soil salinity control with cover crops, soybean cyst nematode reduction with cover crops,  cover crops N and P uptake, nutrient cycling,  soil erosion reduction,  residual herbicides injury to cover crops and how to avoid it.


Café Talks

Q&A session with farmers about cover crops, soil fertility, soil health. Café Talks are an informal setting for farmers to be able to talk and learn from each other about cover crops. Different specialists participate in the Café Talks to aid the discussion. Dr. Abbey Wick organizes and leads the Café Talks, Dr. Franzen and Berti are among the specialists. Numbers of farmers at the Café talks varies from 5 to 15 in each session impacting over 100 farmers.

 5 January and 2 February, 2017, Milnor ND

12 January and 15 February, 2017, Colfax, ND

17 and 31 January and 14 February, 2017, Fort Ransom, ND

19 January and 16 February, 2017, Lakota, ND

26 January, and 23 February, Kulm, ND

27 January and 24 February, 2017, Jamestown, ND Cover crops farmers meeting, Havana, ND, 21 January 2016, (30 participants).

Several county agents participating in this project organized their own field days and tours in their counties.  Causing a domino effect on the dissemination of the benefits of cover crops on soil health and how to select, plant, and manage cover crops.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

a)       Increased knowledge by farmers about cover crop management and soil health: Although we do not have metrics yet, we are positive that our interaction with farmers in Café talks, field days, workshops, and presentations has increased the knowledge of farmers about cover crops and soil health.

b)        Increased awareness and knowledge on how to select cover crops to improve productivity, profitability, and soil health in professionals trained at the workshops

Workshops have been well attended by county agents, crop consultants, and seed companies salesmen. Workshops included hands on learning activities and demos, so they can bring the information to farmers in their counties. One of the topics of the presentations is how to select cover crops, also a Factsheet on cover crops selection was developed to guide farmers how to choose a cover crop according to their needs.  Presentations, reports, and factsheets from workshops, field days, and outreach activities are available at:

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/plantsciences/research/forages/cover-crops  and www.ndsu.edu/soilhealth

c)         Several county agents participating in this project organized their own field days and tours in their counties causing a domino effect in the dissemination of cover crops information across the state. This project is already having a great impact in advancing the knowledge and adoption of cover crops in corn-soybean systems in the northern Great Plains.  More than 500 farmers have been directly impacted by this project and about 50 county agents, NRCS, or consultants have learned the newest information on cover crops to help farmers to adopt them in their cropping systems.


Dr. Abbey Wick

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
North Dakota State University
Walster 239, Dept. 7680, P.O. Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Office Phone: 7012318973
Website: http://www.ndsu.edu/soilhealth