Thursday, August 15, 2013

SWCS Razorback Chapter in Arkansas Cosponsors Cover Crops Conference

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
News Release No.: 080513-01

LITTLE ROCK, AR August 5, 2013 - Interest in cover crops has begun to surge in Arkansas over the last five years. More and more farmers and ranchers are discovering that cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system. They prevent erosion, improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, suppress weeds, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits.

Those benefits were discussed at the Southern Agricultural Cover Crops Workshop recently held in Jonesboro, AR. The workshop was hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in response to the increasing demand from farmers and ranchers for information on cover crops. It was designed to help farmers successfully adopt cover crop management systems congruent to agriculture conditions in the south.

Sponsors of the workshop included NRCS; Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts; University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension; Arkansas State University College of Agriculture and Technology; Arkansas Agriculture Department; Farm Credit; Arkansas Farm Bureau; Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education; Monsanto; and Soil and Water Conservation Society – Razorback Chapter.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of acres being managed with cover crops as a part of the cropping system,” said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas NRCS State Conservationist. “This workshop provided a forum for farmers and ranchers to exchange information, discuss opportunities for collaboration, and learn about new and successful practices related to cover crops.”

Case study presentations identified and discussed the strengths and pitfalls of real applications. Specific sessions included discussions on cover crop management, no‐till, soil management, water management, pest management, disease management and economics. The workshop presenters included farmers, crop consultants, and research scientists who have extensive experience in cover crop management. Among them were: David Lamm, NRCS National Soil Health and Sustainability Team Leader; Dr. Don Tyler, University of Tennessee Engineering and Soil Science; Steve Groff, of Cedar Meadow Farms in Lancaster County, PA; Dr. Ray Massey, University of Missouri Agricultural and Applied Economics; and Dave Brandt of Brandt Farms in Ohio.

“Hopefully, this workshop will be the catalyst to get more farmers involved in not only preserving but also restoring our soils,” said workshop speaker Mike Taylor of Long Lake Plantation in Helena.

Cover crops enhance soil quality and keep nutrients in the fields. Although cover crops can be effective under conventional tillage, they also improve soil quality and ease the transition to continuous no‐till.

“Southern farmers cannot simply rely on the tried and proven management techniques that the Midwest employs to manage cover crop mixes,” said John Lee, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Agronomist in Arkansas. “Conditions in the South are different, and we need to plan to manage crop mixes according to southern agricultural farming practices.”

There were 152 participants from 12 states who attended the two day workshop July 24th and 25th coming from as far away as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

“I commend NRCS’s leadership for organizing an excellent conference with a lot of great information,” said workshop speaker Dr. Mike Daniels, Extension Water Quality professor at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension. “It was very timely and reminded us that we all have a lot of work to do to advance cover crops in Arkansas as a key practice in the future. More and more cover crops will help with soil health, productivity, weed control and natural resource protection.”

“I thought the conference was excellent and offered farmers, researchers and educators a wide array of perspectives and opinions about cover crops and how they fit into a comprehensive soil health program,” said Keith Berns, a no till farmer with Green Cover Seeds in Bladen, NE . “The producers that I visited with were very interested and had a true desire to learn how to increase the health of their soil. That is what it is all about, regardless of whether you farm in Arkansas or Nebraska.”

Through conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NRCS is working to help farmers adapt cover crop practices to their farms. Cover crops improve soil organic matter, soil moisture availability, and bring a host of other benefits to your farm. At the same time, they can reduce costs, increase profits and even create new sources of income. Farmers can reap dividends on their cover crop investment for years because their benefits accumulate over an extended period of time.

For additional information about cover crops, when and how to plant and when to terminate or incorporate the plant into the soil, visit the NRCS website at or call your local NRCS field office listed in the telephone book under U. S. Department of Agriculture.

PowerPoint presentations from the workshop are available online at the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts Web site. 

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