In states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Indiana, adoption of cover crops has spread like good news. Nothing beats seeing firsthand how cover crops can cut costs, build soil, reduce pollution and boost production.
“In some states, financial incentives appear to be stimulating adoption,” said Oregon cover crop seed producer, Nick Bowers. “For example, farmers in Indiana are receiving up to $32/acre to plant cover crops,” Bowers said. “Incentives lower the risk, plain and simple.”
But in other states, cover crop adoption is slow, even stunted. “Information – sometimes too little and sometimes misleading – can impede adoption,” Bowers added. Without good information and supportive, experienced crop consultants, the transition to healthy new practices can be prolonged.
Take annual ryegrass for example. In some states, it’s the “go to” cover crop because of its low cost, deep rooting and nitrogen recycling capabilities. In other states, however, annual ryegrass is still confused with cereal rye. Others shy away because of winterkill stories or how easy it is to kill in the spring. “How can annual ryegrass succeed so well over a dozen years in one state and be so easily dismissed in others,” Bowers wondered.
Bowers is among a handful of Oregon seed growers who have committed to educating a farming public eager to learn about cover crops. The Oregon growers also help to fund research and public education. They’re joined by crop consultants like Dan Towery and Mike Plumer, who have decades of experience as educators and crop consultants in Indiana and Illinois.
Likewise, Midwest growers like Jamie Scott (IN) and Terry Taylor (IL) continue to present at conferences and host field days. “These people successfully demonstrate, year after year, that growing annual ryegrass is not difficult, but as with any crop, you have to pay attention to the management details,” Bowers said.
To propagate more use of annual ryegrass in states like Iowa, Ohio and Missouri, Bowers said that they’re working with select farmers who employ cover crops already. “Word of mouth has been the most reliable way to spread the word,” he said, “and nothing sells better than success stories.” From that exposure, certain soil scientists and crop consultants will become champions, and with that comes added encouragement from organizations like NRCS and county Soil and Water Conservation District staff.
Aside from educating the public and developing distribution points for seed in the Midwest, Oregon growers continue to develop hardy varieties of annual ryegrass to withstand harsh winters. “In this respect, we’re also trying to improve the consistent supply of those pure varieties…and not inadvertently have a batch in which less winter hardy seed is mixed.”
Vast quantities of annual ryegrass is sent each year to southern states that don’t need winter hardy seed. “So, it’s important to make sure that the newer, hardy varieties aren’t grown in fields where less hardy crops were grown the previous year. In that way, the customer will know that what’s printed on the tag is exactly what they’re getting in the bag,” Bowers said.
“With the increases in cost of fuel and other inputs, cover crops will increasingly become an indispensable tool for profitable agriculture, and for a healthy environment,” Bowers said.