- Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, workshop
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Protecting and improving soil health is recognized as a key goal for sustainable agriculture yet many ag service providers feel ill-equipped to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific soil health strategies. They cite a lack of region-specific information and concrete local examples of successful cover cropping, reduced tillage, and rotational practices. Farmer focus group meetings held throughout the state by NRCS on February 18, 2014 in conjunction with national Cover Crops Conference found that farmers want more information on: costs and benefits of soil health strategies; cover crop species characteristics and uses; cover cropping “recipes” for specific crops and areas; detailed instructions on seeding and termination methods; and tillage options and equipment. Individual interviews with Extension educators and NRCS staff echoed these and other educational needs for them to feel confident making recommendations to farmers.
The Maine SARE Soil Health PDP will establish local teams of ag service providers that will increase their capacity to help farmers make informed decisions about adopting specific soil health strategies for our three main cropping systems:
- Potato-grain systems in northern Maine
- Dairy cropping systems in central Maine
- Mixed vegetable cropping systems in south-central Maine
This project will compliment and expand the NRCS initiative in this area by providing practical training and developing a collection of detailed profiles of local cover crop/soil health farmer practices and demonstration trials that will include field data and specific how-to information. An advisory board was formed in April to help guide project development and implementation.
Performance targets from proposal:
18 ag service providers (“core team members”) who gain in-depth practical knowledge and skills in soil health strategies and their implementation will work with at least one grower each year to implement a soil health strategy on their farm (54 farmers total) and will reach an additional 5 farmers each through educational programs or one-on-one assistance (270 farmers total).
18 additional ag service providers (“associates”) who gain familiarity with soil health strategies help at least two growers each year make an informed decision about implementing soil health strategies on their farm (108 farmers total).