Cover crop pioneers gaining audience among farmers

For crop producers interested in trying cover crops, some of the best advice comes from the handful already doing it. Along with all the technical stuff, they'll say 'stay out of the coffees shops' and 'get past the skepticism of neighbors'.

More than 75 farmers and agency staff turned out June 29 in Renville for a 'benefits of cover crops' meeting hosted by the Hawk Creek Watershed Project and Renville County SWCD. A panel of area farmers successfully using cover crops described their experiences and challenges. "After 40 years of conventional farming, this is upside down," said one panelist. "It's a huge learning curve" and start small. Photo, L-R: Brian Pfarr, Dawn and Grant Breitkreutz (with microphone), Brad Nere, and Brian Ryberg. Also participating: Kyle VanOverbeke and Joel Timm.

Survey feedback: 'We learned a lot'

"We had a lot of positive feedback with over 60% of post-meeting survey respondents saying they learned a great deal," says Heidi Rauenhorst, Hawk Creek coordinator. "They liked the visual demonstrations (presented by Holly Hatlewick, Renville SWCD administrator) of the slake test and rainfall simulator to see for themselves the difference in healthy soil and unhealthy soil." Comments about what they learned included:

  • Ripple effects of increased soil health,
  • Benefits of strip/no-till versus conventional tillage,
  • Different options for cover crop species,
  • Equipment modifications used to interseed cover crops,
  • Incorporating livestock into a cover cropping operation had huge benefits,
  • Seeing soil structure and organic matter differences in healthy and unhealthy soils,
  • Resources available to help with cover crops (seed sales, SWCD, HCWP, other farmers),
  • Effects of herbicides and timing on cover crops,
  • Differences in water infiltration rates of healthy versus unhealthy soils,

For more information see the Dept. of Agriculture cover crop webpage