Vermont cover crop initiative
Cover cropping is a practice that helps increase soil and crop health, build soil organic matter, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. Considerable research and farmer outreach has been conducted in Vermont and throughout the Northeast U.S. on the soil health benefits of adding cover crops to both vegetable and field crop production systems.
However, reaping the benefits from cover crops requires that farmers actually take the steps to implement them into their production systems. Therefore, we must address the real and perceived barriers to adoption which include: timing of planting, costs of time and equipment to implement, and the ability to see returns on these investments. To promote wider adoption of cover cropping in Vermont and across the Northeast, our team believes that we must demonstrate that cover crops can be successfully established in our northern climate.
In Vermont and other northern areas, just getting cover crops planted is a major challenge because we have such a short growing season. Most farmers currently wait to seed covers after their cash crops have been harvested and this often results in poor or failed stand establishment, and sometimes may exacerbate soil compaction. To address this challenge, researchers like UVM Extension agronomist Dr. Heather Darby have been investigating interseeding as a possible means to establish diverse cover crop mixtures in far northern regions. Interseeding into a cash drop in mid- to late- summer allows the cover crop species more time to establish and grow prior to autumn and winter months.
The Penn State Cover Crop Interseeder and Applicator—now called the InterSeederTM —was designed to help establish cover crops into a cash crop stand to address the challenges of cover crop establishment. Providing farmers with information and access to the InterSeederTM may increase the adoption and implementation of cover crops in Vermont.
Therefore, this project will complement ongoing efforts by applying the results from replicated small plot research trials that have evaluated dozens of cover crop mixes suitable for interseeding in Vermont to a number of different commercial farm settings.
We will demonstrate the use of the InterSeederTM on 9 commercial farm businesses with different production systems and soil types (3 vegetable, 3 grain, and 3 dairy or livestock) using cover crop mixes that are best adapted to interseeding in our climate. Our team will also expand our collective education and outreach efforts focused on cover cropping to both farmer and service provider audiences.
Project objectives include:
- Evaluate the efficacy of the InterseederTM to establish cover crops within multiple cropping systems and diverse soil types in commercial settings.
- Document determinants involved in interseeded cover crops on multiple farm business settings.
- Expand the awareness and knowledge of successful cover crop applications in northern climates among farmers and service providers in Vermont.
This project will demonstrate cover crop seeding using the InterSeederTM at 9 commercial farm field locations, including 3 vegetable sites, 3 grain sites, and 3 dairy or livestock sites. We will also conduct outreach in the form of on-farm field days during the fall of 2016 and growing season of 2017 at 4 sites, and through the Vermont No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium.
Planned and promoted fall cover crop series (August-November 2016).
To get the project started, the team offered “A Fall Look at Cover Crops” field day series in late October 2016 to hlep increase the interest in cover crops and start recruiting farmers for the Interseeder project. Four field days were offered, two focused on livestock and silage corn, one on vegetable operations, and one was held on a research farm and focused on field research trials, see flyer at: 2016AFallLookatCoverCropsFieldDaySeriesflyer. Each field day was offered on host farms for two hours each and included presentations by the host farmers as well as Extension educators and other agricultural service providers. Topics addressed ranged from the timing of planting and terminating cover crops, varieties to use (included mixtures), equipment choices (including interseeders), and soil health impacts. Seventy-four (74) people participated in the field days including 34 farmers, 16 Extension educators, 7 state and federal employees, and 7 industry personnel.
The project’s next steps include:
- Plan, promote and conduct the 2017 No-Till Cover Crop Symposium (December 2016-February 2017)
- Install 9 on-farm demonstrations with InterSeederTM (March-July 2017).
- Document establishment and growth through photos and farmer interviews (June-November 2017).
- Conduct field days at 2 sites (August-November 2017).
- Conduct farmer panel at 2018 No-Till Cover Crop Symposium (February 2018).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
A follow-up evaluation was conducted with participants of the 2016 A Fall Look at Cover Crop field day series. Twenty-four responses were received (32% response rate). All but one respondent (96%) indicated they learned new information at the field day they attended, and 75% said they intend to implement and/or apply something they learned at the field day(s) on their farms or in their work with farmers.
Singing Cedars Farm
30 Blacksnake Ln
Owell, VT 05760
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
356 Mountain View Drive, Suite 105
Colchester, VT 05446
Office Phone: 802-951-6796
278 South Main Street, Suite 2
St. Albans, Vermont 05478
Office Phone: 802-524-6501