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July 11, 2012
About 160 farmers and producers from across the Midwest and as far away as Wisconsin, converged on the Northwest Missouri State University campus Tuesday for a cover crops workshop, sponsored by the University’s Department of Agricultural Sciences.
The free, day-long cover crops workshop focused on educating local producers and gardeners on the virtues of using cover crops in their traditional production systems. It featured guest speakers, including local producers, university experts and representatives of the Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Attendees also had the opportunity to tour cover crop demonstration plots on the Northwest campus that consist of various cover crop species and cover mixtures.
The use of cover crops by farmers has grown by as much as 400 to 500 percent to increase soil organic matter contents, porosity and nutrient levels, as well as reduce erosion, said Dr. Jamie Patton, associate professor of agricultural sciences at Northwest. The workshop provided an opportunity for growers to gain a better understanding of cover crops and the benefits of growing them.
“Often times we’re not taught this kind of information in college, the whole idea of the soil being an ecosystem,” Patton said. “We’re so used to looking at treating symptoms, for example. We need nitrogen, so we apply nitrogen. We never go back and actually think about why that soil was deficient in nitrogen or why those plants are deficient in nitrogen. So this was a way to try to get producers to look at soil not just as a geologic material but as a living being and how we can treat that living being better so that she can better serve us in food production.”
Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist for the United States Department of Agriculture NRCS and nationally known expert on cover crops, was the workshop’s keynote speaker. Afternoon sessions featured speakers discussing cover crop applications in row crop production and garden production as well as a question-and-answer session.
During his presentation, Ajay Nair, assistant professor of sustainable vegetable production at Iowa State University, offered advice to vegetable growers about integrating cover crops into their fields and how to manage them. Nair said his goal was to help producers understand what happens underneath the soil when they plant a cover crop and the impact it has on soil biology.
“Workshops like this are absolutely critical and necessary to educate the growers and also to give them a live demo of what actually is going on,” Nair said. “The underlying principle for any sustainable farm is to have a sustainable soil that is not producing crops only for year one, year two or year three, but a system that will sustain the growth of the microbes and the growth of the crop. Growers not only learn what we have to say as researchers, but this is a platform for the growers to interact with other growers as well.”
Northwest funded the workshop with the help of a grant from the Missouri Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“We were blessed to have a Missouri NRCS grant, which allowed us to bring in all of these producers,” Patton said. “We will continue to seek funding to continue these workshops because what we’re hearing is that producers are really interested in learning more not just about cover crops but agricultural issues in general.”
Northwest’s agricultural sciences department has grown various types of cover crops during the last three years. Last fall, within an area of highly compacted soil north of the Valk Center, the department grew tillage radishes and studied the impact of the roots on improving soil tilth. At the Mozingo Outdoor Education Recreation Area, the department has grown various cereal grains, legumes and winter canola to control erosion, improve soil fertility and provide wildlife habitat near Mozingo Lake.
Mark Hornickel, Media Relations Specialist
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Northwest Missouri State University
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