- Crop Production: cover crops
- Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, networking, workshop
- Pest Management: mulches - general, mulches - killed
- Production Systems: dryland farming, transitioning to organic
- Soil Management: earthworms, organic matter, soil quality/health
Mississippi producers of row crops, sweetpotato and vegetables have been reluctant to use cover crops. Reluctance continues even with substantial evidence concluding cover crops can reduce soil compaction and erosion while scavenging nutrients, improving tilth and aggregation, capture N and improve soil health. Producers often do not quantify the long-term benefits to justify input costs for a crop they will not sell. CoverItUp is a 2-year Train-the-Trainer program to educate producers on species selection, benefits, establishment, crop termination and cash crop planting tips. This project is a joint effort between MSU Extension, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), MS Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES), and producers. Key producers host on-farm demonstration field days. The goals of the program are to: 1) Develop a Plan-of-Work to transfer cover crop education throughout Mississippi; 2) Develop/Increase cover crop knowledge of Extension agents/NRCS staff; and 3) Increase producer awareness and utilization of cover crops suitable for MS climate. These goals are accomplished by: A) demonstration plots (individual and mixed species); B) field days held during cover crop destruction; C) fact sheets/publications and D) in-service trainings for county agents and NRCS field staff. County agents/NRCS are the primary audience who will then disseminate information and work with local producers to meet our end goals. Year 1 Field Days were held April 5 and April 12 with attendance being: Extension (30), NRCS (19) and Producers (22). Desired outcomes will be measured using: A) Pre-Test/Post-Test/Surveys; B) publications; C) increased cover crop acreage in the region.
- Develop and implement a statewide Plan-of-Work program that provides county extension agents a “ready-to-use” program for conducting cover crop education. MSU Extension uses a program development process (Plan-of-Work) where Specialists develop “ready-to-use” programs for county agents to use in their county programming. There is no Plan-of-Work related to cover crops, soil health or similar areas. Cover*It*Up will use experiences, publications and input from producers to develop a program for Mississippi via our net network of Extension agents. This value-added program will give agents a ready-to-use model to use in county programming to enhance soil health. Year 1 of the project is just wrapping up, therefore, the Plan-of-Work objective has not been completed and offered to agents at this time.
- Develop and/or Increase baseline knowledge of county extension agents and NRCS field staff. Extension agents in MS know cover crops offer many benefits but most are not comfortable deciding when, where, and how they should be used. Limited knowledge prohibits agents from recommending cover crops or guiding producers in regards to sustainable agriculture practices. The Cover*It*Up program develops agent skill sets by providing information, expertise and hands-on learning. This allows agents to educate producers on cover crop benefits, guide them through the learning curve and ultimately increase producer utilization of cover crops. Field Days/In-service trainings were completed on the date of annual report deadline so analysis of Pre versus Post training knowledge levels has not been completed at this time.
- Increase producer awareness on benefits of single species and mixed species cover crops suitable for MS climate and production systems. Roughly 1/3 of attendees at Field Days were producers who indicated a significant positive change on perceptions and knowledge of cover crops however complete analysis has not been accomplished to date. The timing of Field Days did not allow proper evaluation analysis before Annual Report was due. Pre and Post evalutions were conducted and more time will allow us to adequately review the responses. Principle knowledge gained should include specie selection, soil erosion reduction, moisture management, conservation programs, nitrogen accumulation and planting/termination strategies.