In my fourth blog post this year I am interviewing Clint Wostrel of Union Orchard. Clint’s family purchased Union Orchard and he is working under the mentorship of Vaughn Hammond. Clint took the Farm Beginnings class last year and is now learning about running the orchard. Following this interview we will have a photo blog of the orchard.
As Nebraska State SARE Coordinator, the use of cover crops is an important initiative that I am focused on. Cover crops have been used for a number of years particularly in organic cropping systems. They have been a source of nitrogen, organic matter and other nutrients when incorporated as green manures in these systems. Cover crops have also been planted as forage crops for livestock for grazing or hay for many years. In recent years there has been increased interest in the use of cover crops in conventional cropping systems. The USDA NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) has promoted cover crops and provided cost-share programs for farmers to encourage their use to help improve soil health and reduce erosion and degradation of soils.
Cover crops have many potential benefits. Legumes fix (N) nitrogen from the atmosphere which is a source of N for the subsequent crops. Biomass from the cover crops adds carbon and organic matter to the soil. A primary function of cover crops is prevention of erosion with their roots holding soil in place and reducing impact of rain drops by covering the soil. Other benefits include: improve water infiltration, scavenge nutrients, weed suppression and forage for livestock. A number of farmers across Nebraska and in other states have utilized cover crops for several years and are seeing benefits. The University of Nebraska has conducted research and is conducting research to evaluate how cover crops can best be utilized in crop and livestock systems in Nebraska. Nebraska Extension is also cooperating with farmers using cover crops to document impact on soil and subsequent crops.
In Nebraska there are also many questions and challenges with the incorporation of cover crops in cropping systems. Probably one of the primary questions and challenges is how to successfully plant and establish cover crops in a timely manner in corn/soybean crop rotations? Another challenge is developing a herbicide program that allows you to plant and graze cover crops successfully without impacting the previous cash crop of corn or soybeans. A final challenge is balancing the use of cover crops to reduce the impact on the previous and subsequent crops. These are questions currently being addressed by Nebraska Extension, other universities, agri-businesses and farmers across the Midwest.
I have just scratched the surface in regards to cover crops. I hope I have provided you with a glimpse of how some producers in Nebraska are using cover crops and some of the research and education that is taking place in Nebraska and in other states to determine how cover crops can best be utilized in agriculture today and in the future. There are a number of excellent resources where you can learn more about cover crops and soil health. Here are a few publications and links you may want to investigate.
This first post marks the launching of my new blog “Saremansagnews”. The first farm we are featuring is Gerdes Heritage Fowl. Dan Gerdes is owner and operator and lives near Johnson, NE in Nemaha County.
Dan has read the book “The Lean Farm” and believes the principles of recycling materials and cutting costs. He works with schools and talks about local food to students and others in the community. Dan is active in the community and donates eggs for the firemen for their fundraiser each year. You can find out about Dan’s farm on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/gerdesfowl