Getting the most out of cover crops: How timing of termination influences soil health, pest control, and improved crop production
The project members met in August 2014 to plan the cover crop experiments for the three collaborating commercial farms and the two Penn State research farms. In August – October 2014 cover crops were planted on the five cooperating farms, and research plots were laid out at the research farms and planned for the commercial farms. Cash crop seed without insecticide treatment was purchased for all locations and materials for data collection are being purchased and prepared.
Fifty farmers on 10,000 acres will delay cover-crop termination in spring until no-till crop planting, and accrue benefits in at least on the following five areas: reduction of slug damage, improved soil-moisture for seed placement, improved weed control, increased cover crop biomass for soil protection, better crop establishment.
1. In summer 2015 (first summer of field research) and winter 2016, 800 farmers in Pennsylvania learn about the benefits of terminating cover crops and “planting green” through presentations and educational handouts at our two research farm field days, and at Penn State pest management field days, the Diagnostic Clinic, and winter extension meetings.
2. In winter 2016, eight farmers contact members of our project team to gather more information and adopt planting green. They share their experience with members of our project team and other farmers through PSU and No-Till Alliance field days and meetings in summer 2016 and winter 2017.
3. In summer 2016 and winter and summer 2017, an additional 600 farmers learn about the benefits of planting green at project field days at the three cooperating farm and two research farms, at the NESARE Sustainable Dairy Cropping System field day; as well as winter meetings, state-wide conferences, regional and county crops days, and summer educational events described in milestone one, and Penn State’s Ag Progress Days.
4.In spring 2017, 27 additional farmers adopt planting green; twelve of them consult with project members and obtain technical assistance. Twelve farmers share their experiences at field days and meetings in summer 2017 and winter 2018.
5. In summer 2017 and winter 2018, an additional 300 farmers learn about the benefits of planting green through field days, newsletters and farming news articles, fact sheets and the educational events described in milestone 3.
6. In fall 2017 and winter 2018, thirty-five farmers describe the multiple benefits of planting green in our follow-up survey.
7. In spring 2018, an additional 15 farmers adopt planting green, for a total of 50 farmers.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Two farmers, a crop consultant, a cooperative extension educator, a graduate student and five project research scientists met in August 2014 to discuss details for the cover crop experiments on the collaborating commercial farms and the two Penn State research farms. We agreed that the cooperating farmers will plant rye or triticale on their farms and that they will use the practices that they typically use, such as the source of nitorogen (manure or previous legumes) and the termination equipment they have. We discussed the performance indicators that we will monitor in spring 2015 and discussed ideas for educational field days.
Based on what we have learned from farmers who terminate cover crops at planting, we are evaluating some additional cover crop practices for “planting green” at the two Penn State research farms. Prior to soybean, we are evaluating two factorial rye treatments (three rye seeding rates by two nitrogen rates) and prior to corn, we are evaluating three cover crop treatments: rye, crimson clover and the combination of rye and crimson clover. Cash crop seed without insecticide treatment was purchased for all fiver locations and materials for data collection are being purchased and prepared.
A doctoral graduate student Heidi Myers started with the project in January 2015, and we are preparing materials to multiple variables. At all five locations, we plan to monitor cover crop biomass at termination and cash crop planting, soil moisture, temperature and seed coverage at planting, slug activity each week, and at approprriate times in the season we will scout for additional corn pests: black cutworm and armyworm. We will also measure cash crop yields at all locations. At the Penn State research farms we will also monitor cash crop and cover crop damage; predatory insects and predation with pitfall traps and sentinel prey trials; C:N ratio of the cover crop biomass; and pre-side dress soil nitrate in the corn experiments.
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