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Posted on August 31, 2021 at 2:27 PM by Allan Warren
Cover Crops To Improve Soil.
Photo by Rocio Miller
Blog by Rocio Miller on August 2021
Cover Crop Benefits.
Cover crops have been an essential part of improving farming and soil health. A cover crop is a plant used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity, and bring a host of other benefits to a farm. Pierce Conservation District and Washington State University have been working with Four Elements Farm located in Puyallup to restore soil health to depleted fields using cover crops. Well functioning soil health is especially important for organic farming which relies on natural systems working optimally to cycle nutrients and prevent pest and disease pressure. Four Elements Farm is an organic based farm, and their main focus is to return the entirety of their farmland to a healthy level so that they can plant more crops and provide more nutritious foods to our local communities.
WSU Implementing cover crops to improve the soil.
The photo above shows the implementation of a cover crop project to study soil compaction by Dr. Doug Collins, Small Farms Extension Specialist at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center, and WSU soil science Graduate Student, Justin Maltry. When asked what his goals for the project are, Justin mentions the importance of understanding soil compaction and implementing cover crops that can address this issue, and said, “We wanted to look into summer cover crops’ ability to alleviate compaction since many fields in our area are compacted. We chose deep-rooted crops: Sudangrass, fava bean, and a radish called “Groundhog”, because deep roots may penetrate into the compacted soil. These 3 have shown some history of success in remediating compaction. Since compaction may reduce yields and result in poor drainage, adding another tool to the growers’ toolbox for addressing compaction will be useful. Currently, some farmers are using deep tillage to remediate compaction, but this can be expensive and only has temporary benefits. Some farmers don’t address it because they don’t see it as a big problem or because of the expense. Additionally, the trial has given us the opportunity to study other effects of summer cover crops, such as the optimal planting date, and if the crop will produce more biomass if irrigated vs. not irrigating them.” Cover crops are highly beneficial when combined with other tools to address compaction.
Dr. Doug Collins and Justin Maltry plant with a seed drill. Photo by Rocio Miller
Using a Seed Drill to Plant Cover Crops
Dr. Doug Collins and Justin Maltry use a seed drill to plant Sudangrass, Groundhog radish, and fava bean. Pierce Conservation District provides many resources related to seeding cover crops such as workshops on the proper way to use our no-till seed drill. PCD has a Land Pride 606NT pull-type, no-till seed drill available for rent. At a 6 ft. working width with optional capacities for native grass and small seeds, the drill is ideal for any cover crop or pasture renovation application as long as you have a minimum 40 HP tractor.
Photo by Rocio Miller
New Growth of Sudangrass and Groundhog radish.
Cover crop implementation is a critical method towards improving soil, as demonstrated by the response seen in their soils by the farmers at Four Elements Farm after using cover crops. Sudangrass and radish are thriving and healthy. Fava beans will begin growing in the winter, but judging from the success of the other cover crops, they too will thrive.
Four Elements Farm:
PCD No-Till Resources and Rentals:
Cover Crop Management:
WSU Puyallup Organic Farming Systems and Nutrient Management Program - Cover Crops - access information on past and current cover crop trials and other publications out of WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center
Reduced Tillage with Cover Crops - see various methods of cover crop termination in action
Reduced Tillage in Organic Production - see one strip-tillage method using cover crops
On-Farm Summer Cover Crop Research - evaluate combinations of buckwheat, sudangrass, and clover mixes
No-Till Cover Crop Seeding in Organic Vegetable Systems - compare cover crop success in tilled vs. no-till systems
Organic Reduced Tillage in the Maritime Pacific Northwest Symposium - regional farmers and researchers explore a range of no-till and tarping techniques using cover crops
2019 Cover Crop Roundtable - regional farmers and researchers convene to present cover crop work and network
2020 Cover Crop Roundtable
Cover Crops for Home Gardens West of the Cascades - a resource also applicable to the farm-scale focusing on choosing the best cover crops for Washington and Oregon, west of the Cascades
Methods for Successful Cover Crop Management in Your Home Garden - a resource also applicable to the farm-scale focusing on methods for managing garden cover crops, including planning, planting, managing nutrients, and terminating plants
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Adaptation of 59 Cover Crop Cultivars in Western Oregon - The USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center in Corvallis, Oregon, participated in a 3-year trial with other PMCs across the country to evaluate the adaptation and growth potential of common, commercially available cover crop species and cultivars.
Warm Season Cover Crops for Western Oregon - The USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center in Corvallis, Oregon, completed a study to evaluate commercially available summer cover crops for the Willamette Valley of western Oregon.
Cover Crop Resources and Seed Vendors for Oregon and Washington
Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems - An overview of how cover crops are integrated into organic operations, covers crop choice, field preparation, termination, and overviews of various working cover crop systems.
SARE Cover Crops Topic Room - an exhaustive resource for all things cover crop-- publications, project summaries, and producer videos are just some of the many resources accessible through this site!
Managing Cover Crops Profitably - explores how and why cover crops work and provides all the information needed to build cover crops into any farming operation, along with detailed management information on the most commonly used species and these helpful Cover Crop Charts.
To stay up to date on the latest cover crop research, workshops, and networking opportunities, visit the new Western Cover Crop Council website here.
In partnership with the Pierce County Agriculture Program, PCD is offering 75% cost share, up to $150/acre, for cover crop seedings in 2021! Eligible expenses include seed, inoculant, fertilizer, labor, and equipment rental for establishing cover crops. Steps to access this program are:
1. Contact your PCD farm specialist to develop a cover cropping plan that fits your production goals and site conditions.
2. Seed your cover crop based on the plan developed to receive your cost-share reimbursement upon completion.
3. Share what you learn and help us to better assist our farming community! Complete a short evaluation form after you terminate your cover crop planting to capture successes and lessons learned.
Visit our farm improvement financial assistance page for more information and to learn about our other financial assistance opportunities.
Make seeding cover crops a cinch by utilizing our pull-type no-till seed drill. At a 6 ft working width with optional capacities for native grass and small seeds, the drill is ideal for any cover crop or pasture renovation application if you have a minimum 40 HP tractor. We also have a flail mower available as an option for terminating cover crops and leaving residue evenly chopped and distributed. Visit our farm services and equipment page for more information and see other equipment available to rent or borrow.
PCD FARM SERVICES AND EQUIPMENT
Pierce Conservation District