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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Michael Fields Institute to host 2015 Cover Crops Conference

Dan DeSutter from west central Indiana, is the conference keynote speaker and will be discussing his use of no-till, cover crops and manure to improve soil quality on his 4,500-acre farm. He was a former financial analyst and commodity broker, and in 2013 DeSutter was honored as the National No-Till Innovator of the Year.

The overall theme of the 2015 conference is “Cover Crops and Agricultural Resiliency.” In addition to DeSutter’s keynote presentation, a mix of general sessions and bus tours will be available during the Aug. 14 event. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the tours conclude by 3:30 p.m. Registration is $30, includes lunch and is due by Aug. 10. Go online at www.michaelfields.org, or contact Sandy Andrews at sandrews@michaelfields.org, (262-642-3303 x100).

In the past few years, Michael Fields has been leading research initiatives into cover crops, including strategies to facilitate organic transition and reinvigorate certified organic land, using oilseed radish varieties to manage chronic pest problems in no-till production, and monitoring how the harvest of cover crop biomass impacts nitrogen contribution to corn.

The institute has also partnered with the National Wildlife Federation and University of Wisconsin-Extension to conduct research into red clover, a now popular cover crop in the Upper Midwest. Specifically, the combined group effort aims to understand the corn yield increases caused by including red clover in field rotate and give scientific standing to the financial argument for the use of cover crops.

“Cover crops are a key component of soil improvement,” says Jim Stute, research program director at Michael Fields. “In addition to protecting the soil surface when no crops are present they provide a host of ecosystem services and benefits depending on which species are chosen and where they are grown.”

Stute adds that with the agricultural industry’s challenge of feeding and clothing a 9 billion population by 2050, as well as the competition for land to produce fuel crops, the agricultural scientist community agrees that improving soil quality is key solution to the problem. “Improving soil quality will support higher crop yields, improve water harvest (increased infiltration) and storage, and could be a key component in carbon sequestration, potentially mitigating some of the problems associated with climate change.”

Climate change is one of the topic of discussion at the 2015 Wisconsin Cover Crops Conference, and will be addressed by Bill Bland from the UW Soil Science/UW-Extension Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The other session will address the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Cover Practice Standards and Options for Assistance.

In a 2010 survey by Corn and Soybean Digest, a main barrier to cover crop usage around the country was the limited time to establish the crop itself with any harvest challenges that may arise. The second was cost, and a reduced seed price tag was cited as the top reason growers even would consider using cover crops in the future. The survey’s participants did, however, recognize the benefits of reduced soil compaction and soil erosion, as well as weed control and nitrogen fixation.

To give participants real-life cover crops insight, three concurrent tours will be leaving from the conference at Michael Fields. The first tour will feature the cover crop research of MFAI including organic no-till, new species screening, organic reinvigoration and quackgrass control as well as the successful cover crop practices at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute’s research farm. The second option, a trip to Palmyra, will display successful practices on rolling and highly erodible soils, and will discuss aerial application in corn and soybeans, drilling in standing corn and cocktail mixes after wheat. The third tour available is to Turtle Creek Gardens in Delavan, and will feature successful cover crop applications in organic vegetable production.

Whether a seasoned cover crops producer or a wanting to just learn more about implementing the practice, the 2015 Wisconsin Cover Crops Conference is an opportunity to ask questions as well as learn new tips from experienced farmers and other professionals.

Click here to register today!

 

Jen Bradley, Writer