Increased use of cover crops in field and vegetable crop rotations through farmer-directed on-farm research and outreach opportunities

Project Overview

ONE05-035
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,859.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $22,057.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Ronald Hoover
The Pennsylvania State University
Co-Leaders:
Michele Gauger
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: rye, sorghum (milo)

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition, mulches - living, mulching - vegetative
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Recent visits with numerous farmers in Pennsylvania have revealed many are not aggressively managing their cover crop programs. Whlie many producers incorporate cover crops into production systems, there is still important education to be done concerning the management of these valuable crops. A 2003 PASA field day exit survey indicated a desire for further education related to successful cover cropping and effective incorporation into production rotations. This project will focus on increasing growers’ knowledge of cover cropping and challenge them to manage these crops more intensively. Improved management of cover crops can result in large impacts on weed population dynamics, soil quality, yield of cash crops and ultimately farm sustainability.

    Producers have been identified who are interested in further developing their knowledge of cover crops and sharing those findings with other farmers. These projects will be designed to conduct on-farm research that will address questions concerning improved production and profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations. Along with project advisors, each cooperating producer will select at least one but not more than two new practices to compare to a standard practice within a replicated study on that farm. Through education of these farmers of proper cover crop manangement, they will become a positive example for other producers in the region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will focus on increasing growers’ knowledge of cover cropping and challenge them to manage these crops more intensively. Cooperating farmers identified are interested in further developing their knowledge of cover crops and sharing those findings with other farmers. Many have tried various cover crop species in the past with fair-to-good results. As these cooperators increase their knowledge of cover crop management, they will serve as key communicators of their new knowledge to other interested producers in the region.

    Recently PASA and Penn State conducted a survey at the 2004 Farming for the Future conference to determine farmers’ interest in various aspects of cover crops. Over 82% of respondents indicated they would like more information on incorporating cover crops to control weeds, while 78% of respondents indicated a strong interest in using cover crops to improve soil fertility. Similar comments were also heard at a PASA field day in 2003, where exit surveys noted a clear desire for more education related to successful cover cropping and effective incorporation.

    Along with project advisors, each cooperating producer will select at least one but not more than two new practices to compare to a standard practice within a replicated study. Cooperators in this project are on the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement. They are always eager to experiment and implement new practices on their farms that will not only benefit their long-term sustainability as farmers, but also the natural environment and their communities. Through education of these farmers of proper cover crop management, they will become a positive example for other producers in the region.

    University faculty and staff, conservation program planners, and others with an interest in promoting an increase in cover crop usage recognize the rate of adoption of cover cropping continues to be low. All believe adoption can be accelerated when farmers who practice and benefit from the recommendations contained in that message deliver the message. This project will meet needs of the cooperating farmers and offer data for other farmers to consider when incorporating cover crops into their rotations.

    Through on-farm research this project will address questions concerning improved production and profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations. A particular area of interest will be the impact of cover crop seeding rate on weed management, which has not been well documented in situations where soil fertility might limit crop production. Weeds can be aggressive invasive plants that can reduce yield and quality of forage crops. Previous research has shown lower seeding rates of cover crop species produce less biomass, which can result in an increase in the weed seed bank. This project will further examine the effects of cover crop seeding rate on weed population dynamics, soil quality, yield and profitability of vegetable or field crop production systems.

    Beyond identifying cooperative farmers for this project, project leaders have identified a team of farmers in Pennsylvania to serve on an “advisory panel” for these projects. Our goal with this panel is to provide direction and insight during the development of the details of each project. Including the valuable insight from other knowledgeable farmers who have years of successful experience in using cover crops on their farms will improve the quality of these projects and enhance the “marketability” of the results when making recommendations to the target audience farmers.

    The anticipated timetable for the project is as follows:

    Spring/Summer 2005
    Revisit all cooperating farm locations
    Design research projects in conjunction with cooperating farmers, advisory panel & others

    Late Summer/Fall 2005
    Begin project implementation on cooperating farms
    Cover crops planted on cooperator farms, flagged, & monitored

    Spring 2006
    Cash crop planted following cover
    Begin outreach planning by utilizing newsletter articles, website updates on project progress & development of field days

    Summer/Fall 2006
    Performance of 2006 cash crop evaluated
    2 PASA field days offered to cover establishment/progress of projects

    Winter 2006
    Workshop coordinated with cooperating farmers, researchers at PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference

    Late Summer/Fall 2006
    Second season of cover crop test planted
    Further descriptions & updates on projects via newsletter articles & website updates

    Spring 2007
    Second cash crop planted

    Summer/Fall 2007
    Performance of 2007 cash crop evaluated and final report written
    2 PASA field days offered to wrap up research

    When possible, the treatments to be tested will be similar to those included in the previous studies. Where similar treatments cannot be used, because of rotation limitations, treatments best suited for the situation will be substituted. The performance of the 2007 cash crop will be measured and included in the final report.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.