West Virginia 2016 cover crop initiative for promoting soil health

2016 Annual Report for ONE16-289c

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,107.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Thomas Basden
West Virginia University Extension Service

West Virginia 2016 cover crop initiative for promoting soil health


Initial outreach efforts in West Virginia (WV) have sought to demonstrate the use of cover crops for good soil health to increase yields, profitability and water quality benefits. Despite this, most specialty and commodity crop producers in West Virginia have not successfully adopted cover cropping as a Best Management Practice. Crop producers in WV are typically a diverse mix of small commodity crop farms, or specialty crops producers using permanent raised beds for high-tunnel or open field production.  In an effort to serve the diverse cropping landscape in WV, the WV participants of the March 2016 Cover Crop Conference will conduct field trials, field demonstrations, and accompanying farmer field days on vegetable and commodity grain enterprises to help increase awareness, understanding, and adoption of cover crops as part of the cropping systems to improve soil health. This initiative has two parts – Evaluating and Demonstrating Cover Crops for:

  • Crop Production on a Conventional Commodity Crop Farm and an Organic Dairy; and
  • Specialty Crop Production (Permanent Raised Beds for High Tunnels and Open-Field Systems

Objectives/Performance Targets

With this project, we are attempting to evaluate winter and summer cover crops established on permanent beds for open-field and protected culture specialty crop production systems in WV. On commodity grain farms, we are interested in comparing rolled green cover crop versus standing cover crop with corn and soybean production. 

We plan to demonstrate the use of the Roller Crimper Technology on three farms – a commodity grain farm, an organic dairy farm and a vegetable farm. One or more educational events will accompany each of the demonstration/trials conducted on the three different farms during the fall of the second year of the grant period, to discuss results from two years of trials and bring a group of farmers out to see the early establishment of fall cover crop plantings.  


Fall 2016 WV Cover Crop Activities

Vegetable Farmer

Cover crops were established in open-field plots at Sickler Farms in Barbour County, WV on October 20, 2016.  The cover crop mix included triticale, tillage radish, winter pea and crimson clover.  Each legume species was inoculated prior to seeding and broadcast-seeded followed by cultipacking.  Rainfall occurred within 24 hours after seeding.  Emergence was observed 10 days after seeding and in the spring, 2017, the field will be partitioned into 5 permanent beds for no-till vegetable demonstration and production. 

On October 26, 2016, cover crops were established within a high tunnel at Sickler Farms.  Triticale, crimson clover and winter pea were broadcast-seeded followed by raking the seed lightly and overhead watering.  One half of the growing zone was subsoiled using a broadfork.  Emergence was observed within 10 days.  Beginning in March, 2017, the cover crops will be cut and used to establish permanent beds for crop production and demonstration within the high tunnel.

Commodity Crop Farmer

A cereal rye cover crop was established on Mike Wolpert’s farm in Mason County WV. Due to commodity crop prices for corn grain he has switched his cropping for 2017 to soybeans.  The cereal rye will be rolled and crimped or left standing with the soybeans planted into the two treatments. A USDA roller crimper has been loaned to WVU.  A quick attachment modification unit has been fabricated so the loaned roller crimper can be used on Mike Wolpert’s tractor. 

Organic Dairy Farmer

Contact was not made with Rim Perkins this fall, but he plants cover crops after corn silage, so we will work with him in the spring of 2017 to develop treatments in his planted cover crops.   

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

As we are initiating this cover crop project our single outcome was the successful fall planting of cover crops on all of our cooperating farmers fields. These cover crops were established at the proper time and a good stand was visible on all demonstration fields.