- Problem and justification
Cover Cropping, a recognized strategy for improving soil health, limiting nutrient leaching, managing pests and potentially other benefits, is currently being done on a large scale in Delaware, particularly on large farms growing grains and processing vegetables. According to the Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), 36% (155,466 out of 421,321 acres) of harvested cropland in Delaware had cover crops observed. However, many farmers are new to cover cropping and not managing them as effectively as they could be, and there are still many farmers throughout the state who have not adopted or are seeking to adopt cover cropping. Both farmers and the agricultural service providers (ASPs) who advise them need continual education to be aware of current research and recommendations.
Some ASPs have a high level of knowledge about cover crops and soil health, but have expressed a need for educational programming aimed at improving how they coach farmers. This includes analyzing each farm operation independently and addressing its opportunities and challenges, based on resources, current soil health, and cash crop rotation. ASP’s also need regular updates of research in the region and locally so they continually improve their farmer assistance. Other ASPs have only a basic understanding of soil health and the benefits of using cover crops. Educational activities in this three-year plan will be designed to meet the need of both audiences by featuring advanced- and beginner-level instruction, depending on ASPs’ needs.
The Delaware Soil Health Partnership (DSHP), a 14 member group of ASPs from NRCS, Extension, Conservation Districts, DSU and UDel formed in 2014, has expressed a need for continual education on cover crops and their support for this project. Interest among additional ASPs and farmers to continue learning about cover crops is evident by high participation in the Northeast SARE Regional Cover Crops for Soil Health Training that was held in Baltimore in March of 2016 and many subsequent local related events.
- Solution and approach
This project will offer cover crops and soil health education to ASPs and farmers, and professional development training specifically to help ASPs improve their abilities to coach and advise farmers about cover cropping. Members of the DSHP will provide advice and planning support throughout the project as well as being core participants. New ASPs, particularly from Kent and New Castle County Conservation Districts will join the DSHP and participate consistently in SARE trainings. Additional ASP’s and farmers will attend specific trainings as desired. At the beginning of the project, core participants will agree to attending trainings and assisting a certain number of farmers.
Educational activities will include annual late summer field days/workshops and demonstration plots at the DSU research farm, winter classroom workshop sessions, conference presentations, and summer professional development improvement workshops for ASPs. This project will also include collaborative programming with UMES via presentations at their annual Small Farms Conference and workshops on cover cropping in pastures and orchards, organized in conjunction with the UMES state coordinator. The SARE Educator will facilitate networking and sharing of successes/challenges at trainings and throughout the project.
Performance targets from proposal:
12 agricultural service providers (7 members of the Delaware Soil Health Partnership plus 5 additional Ag service providers) will include learned information or techniques cover cropping and soil health into the education and assistance they provide to 75 farmers who manage 10,000 acres.