The Wisconsin Cover Crop Summit, held in Stevens Point, Wis., featured a strong lineup of growers and agriculture industry experts to discuss different aspects of growing cover crops, from regenerative agriculture to aerial seeding to using covers as forages and more. Here are 5 takeaways from that event:
- Farming green can help fix nitrogen (N) in the soil, increase pounds of organic matter in the soil and feed the microbes, according to Indiana grower Rick Clark. Clark was the keynote speaker for the summit and encouraged attendees to use cover crops to armor the soil to limit moisture evaporation. “If I lose soil health, I lose everything,” Clark says.
- Cover crops are a litmus test for your soil, says Adam Kramer, certified crop advisor with Black Sand Granary, Prairie du Chien, Wis. Kramer’s operation has seen a 0.4% increase in organic matter in the 3 years since they started using covers. Kramer aerial seeds a variety of cover crops, including sunflowers. Chris Miller, District Conservationist with Sauk County NRCS, stated that adding livestock to an operation that utilizes cover crops showed a 0.5% increase in soil organic matter.
- Diverse cover crop mixes are an excellent source of forages for cattle, according to Tom Cotter, a Minnesota grower who raises 50 pairs of cow/calves. “Once we started putting cows out on no-till fields, that’s when I really saw life explode in the soil,” Cotter says. “It was like 1+1+1=10. My goal now is to get double income off of every acre.”
- When it comes to growing cover crops, temperatures are not always the problem, but the number of hours of sunlight can be problematic, says T.J. Kartes, salesman with Saddle Butte Ag. Inadequate hours of sunlight on cereal rye results in a crop that is spindly and brittle, due to a lack of photosynthesis. Growers should evaluate the average number of days of sunlight for their area and choose cover crop species accordingly. Interseeding can also be a tool to help spread out the risk posed by cover crops, so growth of covers is not limited to just September and October, when fickle fall weather could mean fewer sunny days.
- Farmers will have to learn how to adapt to not only changing temperatures but increasing amounts of rainfall, according to Chris Kucharik, Agronomy Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kucharik’s models predict that will be a 23% increase in annual rainfall and a 4-9 degree increase in temperatures in the next 50-100 years.
Look for more coverage of topics and conversations from the conference at CoverCropStrategies.com.