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Cover Crop Workshop

  

Have you ever thought about what is contained in a teaspoon of soil?  There are over 1 billion bacteria, along with millions of fungi, algae, protozoa and dozens of nematodes.  In fact ,there are more living organisms below the ground than above the ground and our soil livestock needs to be continually fed.  These are just two of the fascinating facts discussed at the Cover Crop Workshop and Information Exchange in Worthington, MN on March 11.

The day brought approximately 120 people together to learn more about the benefits of cover crops.   “When the Nobles county conservation team started planning for the March 11 event a goal of 30-50 attendees was set.  The planning team knew the meeting was going in the right direction when 50 farmers had registered in the first week,” said Stephanie McLain, District Conservationist, Worthington Field Office.

The March 11 workshop took place from 10 a.m. – 2:30 pm in Worthington, MN at the Minnesota West Community & Technical College.  The workshop  started with the basics and a general overview of cover crops.  Kent Solberg from the MN Sustainable Farmers Association filled that niche with a compelling presentation looking at the options and opportunities when people ask “why cover crops”?

 Dr. Mike Lehman with the Agricultural Research Service out of Brookings, SD talked about feeding the microbiology with cover crops.  He described the beneficial relationship between plants and biology-plants feed the biology and in turn the biology feeds the plant.  The biology is responsible for all soil processes that we tend to forget about: breaking down plant residues, nutrient cycling,Nitrogen fixing and making nutrients plant available.  Plants feed the biology, and  our crops are only doing this for one to two month out of every year.  Just like humans, these organisms need food year around or all the beneficial things they do, stop dead.

Following lunch, the day moved to the practical application of cover crops with a farmer panel.  The following farmers shared their experiences with cover crops: Jerry Ackermann, Lakefield, MN; Ian Cunningham, Pipestone, MN; and Mark Peterson,Stanton, IA.  Each farmer talked about what got them started with growing cover crops; the benefits they have seen and the things they have learned.  Ian discussed utilizing spring regrowth of triticale for grazing and Jerry talked of his spring 2013 experience where he was planting crops in a part of the field that normally drowns out and his neighbors hadn’t even gotten in the field yet. 

“Driving back to the office that afternoon, I looked at the success of the workshop as a sign that this is only the beginning,” McLain explained.  “We are tapping into our soil health team to put together a ‘cover crop planning session’ on April 8th or 9th .  This intensive planning session is geared towards farmers ready to commit to trying cover crops this year but need help bridging that gap from idea to plan.”

Additional thank-yous go to the Nobles SWCD, Okabena & Ocheda Watershed District, Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed District, and Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers Association who sponsored some of the event costs.  As well as to the Nobles County Conservation Office who played a significant role in making the Cover Crops workshop a success.  For additional information please contact McLain at 507-376-9150 ext.3 or via email at Stephanie.mclain@mn.usda.gov