Cover crops, here we come! A team of Vermonters—including NWCS team members Heather Darby, Jeff Sanders, and Sara Ziegler; CVCSP staffer Kirsten Workman; farmer Becky Maden; VT NRCS conservation agronomist Sandra Primard; and VT state SARE coordinator Deb Heleba—headed to Baltimore, Maryland in late March to a conference called, “Cover Crops for Soil Health: A Northeast SARE regional training.”
The training brought together agricultural service providers (Extension, NRCS, and non-profits) and farmers from every state in the Northeast U.S. for three days of presentations by researchers and farmers to learn about the benefits of integrating cover cropping into grain and vegetable crops.
Although most of the research presented had been conducted in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, we did learn about the relationships and tradeoffs of planting dates and termination timing, species performance when interseeded into corn, considerations for developing mixtures that are multifunctional, barriers to adoption facing farmers…and so much more!
Heather presented some of our NWCS research at the training and encouraged participants to think about the multiple uses that cover crops can offer farms – from pollinator and beneficial insect habitat to livestock forages.
The highlight of the training was a field tour at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. There, researchers have been conducting a number of field trials looking at legume cover crop breeding efforts, long-term evaluation of cover crops in reduced till conventional and organic grain production, and cover crop establishment approaches (interseeding, aerial seeding, and post-harvest drilling).
Perhaps our favorite part of the day was taking a look at the equipment demonstrations. We met Pennsylvania farmer, Charles Martin, who invented a one pass roller-crimper and no-till seeder. This unit has recently been sold to DawnBiologic and is called the ZRX Electro-Hydraulic Roller / Crimper / Row Cleaner. We are currently working to raise funds to purchase one of these units to test here in Vermont.
We also looked at units outfitted with spading closing wheels and drag chain, rotary hoes, and a really outlandish machine designed to destroy weed seeds borrowed from the mining industry (think crushed stone!)
We’ve returned with a renewed appreciation for the farmers with whom we work who always seem willing to try new ways to improve cover cropping on their farms. Stay tuned for our upcoming cover crop work — we plan on hosting a morning webinar series on cover crops in the coming weeks, and also plan to expand our no-till and cover cropping efforts during the season.