- Crop Production: cover crops
The strong participation and high level of enthusiasm for the February 2014 National Cover Crops Conference co-sponsored by North Central Region SARE and the Howard Buffet Foundation provided evidence of the interest in cover crops and soil health that exists currently among agricultural service providers and farmers nationwide. Additional evidence of regional interest in educational programs about cover crops and soil health comes from needs assessment surveys conducted by SARE state coordinators for their 2014-2017 state program plans. Four state coordinators (in Delaware, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts) found cover crops and other practices for improving soil health to be top interest areas among the agricultural service providers they polled. Finally, the inclusion of soil health and cover crops in NRCS strategic training priorities demonstrates that not only is there keen national interest in advancing the implementation of cover cropping, but that now is an opportune time for Northeast SARE to engage in efforts to provide education and support for the adoption of cover crops and other beneficial practices to improve soil health.
At the 2014 Northeast SARE Administrative Council (AC) winter meeting, the council expressed support for identifying and acting on ways to continue the momentum generated by the national conference and increase knowledge about and adoption of cover crops in the Northeast Region. A regional conference was one of the options recommended by a subgroup of the AC (Lauchlin Titus, Dean Hively and Jason Challandes – PDP liaison to the AC) who met to generate ideas for continued efforts by Northeast SARE to promote use of cover crops and related soil health improvement practices in the Northeast. This idea has been developed in this regional training event proposal
Because of the strong interest found among agricultural service providers for professional development in soil health and cover crops topics, the regional conference concept presented here has a strong emphasis on professional development, and thus would mesh well with the educational programs planned by the state coordinators from the above-mentioned states. Participation in the regional conference would be integrated into the suite of learning opportunities they provide. This conference would also provide an opportunity to extend the results of numerous researchers and educators who have been funded by Northeast SARE for work on cover crops and soil health, and would build on regional efforts such as the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Program (STAC) that met in Maryland in 2008 and identified opportunities for expansion of cover crops and made recommendations for programs to increase implementation of cover cropping practices.
Performance targets from proposal:
80 service providers and farmers who increase knowledge and skills through this training event will form implementation teams with competencies and intention to deliver education programs for farmers about cover crops to improve soil health.