Increased use of cover crops in field and vegetable crop rotations through farmer-directed on-farm research and outreach opportunities
Recent visits with numerous farmers in Pennsylvania have revealed many are not aggressively managing their cover crop programs. While many producers incorporate cover crops into production systems, there is still important education to be done concerning the management of these valuable crops. Improved management of cover crops may 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. Some areas for improving cover crop management include increasing seeding rates, optimizing the time of seeding, and selecting better performing species, especially legumes. 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. 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.
- Address questions concerning improved production & profitability when cover crops are used in specific situations.
A particular area of interest will be the impact of cover crop seeding rates on weed management, which has not been well documented in situations where soil fertility might limit crop production.
Increased education of cover crop management by considering several factors (including but not limited to) seeding rates, timing of planting, method of planting, & selection of cover species.
Investigation of how improved management can influence weed populations, soil quality, yield of cash crops, farm profitability & sustainability, organic matter & fertility.
Outreach to other farmers, educators, researchers, etc. to continue to promote the use & proper management of cover crops.
In 2005 on-farm research trials were developed for 3 of the 4 partnering farms. Two of these projects are comparing cover crop seeding rates and/or mixes of cover crop species, followed by cash crops. Trail 1 began in the fall of 2004 comparing varying rates of rye (biomass data collected), followed by a spring 2005 planting of soybeans (yield & moisture data were collected), followed by a fall 2005 planting of wheat. Trial 2 is comparing plantings of three varieties of clovers (crimson, mammoth and medium red) at varying seeding rates in combination with sorghum sudangrass. In the spring of 2006 a planting of strawberries will follow these covers. Trial 3 was unsuccessful at the first attempt using a companion planting of red clover, hairy vetch and rye. The other two partnering farms are still undergoing further research trial development to be ready for the 2006 year. All projects will be followed through planting of cash crops, another cover crop season and cash crop through 2007.
One of the cooperating farms, Charlestown Cooperative Farm hosted a field day in October 2005 entitled “Cover cropping to improve soil quality, manage weeds and improve production.” A total of 20 individuals attended the event and results of an exit survey showed increased understanding of various topics presented at the field day. About half indicated they were “very likely” to make a change in their farming operation concerning; timing of cover crop seeding, better species selection and development of a proper rotation and/or mixes. Twelve also responded that they now had better understanding of the effects of cover crops on weed suppression and the importance of a proper rotation.
Outreach to facilitate farmer to farmer exchange is a key component to the success of this project, so descriptions and photos of the trials have been added to the PASA website. Already we have begun fielding inquiries and interest in more projects related to cover crop systems in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. As the projects progress and further outreach is done via printed and web-based resources, as well as workshops and field days, we look forward to sharing our results.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In the first year of this study, we are continuing to work with all 4 original project partners. These projects will progress through the 2007 growing season, thus with little research results to share at this time, initial impact on the farming community has been minimal. However, one project partner hosted a field day in October 2005. Attendees included other producers, students, researchers and community members.
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.
Quiet Creek Farm
1996 Folk Road
Fogelsville, PA 18501
Office Phone: 6102854678
952 Temperance Hill Road
Lititz, PA 17543
Office Phone: 7176657462
Misera Organic Farm
135 Minteer Road
Butler, PA 16001
Office Phone: 7248652424
911 Disston View Drive
Lititz, PA 17543
Office Phone: 7176266194