New York State Agronomic Cover Cropping Workgroup:
Cover crop benefits in agricultural systems have been widely recognized. The gains depend on a number of factors but in general include improvements in long-term soil health through the increase of organic matter and supply of nutrients to the following crop, greater nutrient cycling through an increase in microbial activity, a reduction of erosion, weed suppression, pest cycle interruption, and attraction of beneficial insects. Furthermore, cover crops can improve water infiltration into the soil which may compensate for the water that they use and act as a buffer in dry years.
Despite the potential benefits of cover crops as a management practice, wide spread adoption in the Upper Susquehanna River basin has not been realized due to challenges in establishing them within our existing cropping systems.
In response the Upper Susquehanna Coalition has partnered with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Cornell University to establish a working group to address these challenges and develop a program that will make it easier for farmers to adopt cover cropping as a management practice in the future. The group was formed “. . . to promote cover crop use in New York State through facilitation of farmer-to-farmer communication on cover cropping, to advocate for on-farm research, demonstration and dissemination of research findings, and promote technical and cost-sharing assistance. Through these efforts [they] will advance the development of agricultural systems that are economically viable and energy efficient; improve soil and water quality; and enhance carbon sequestration and nitrogen use efficiency. These goals will conserve natural resources and biodiversity and enhance the quality of life in New York communities”.
In the short term, the group will focus on cover crop use in corn silage cropping systems. The goals of this new effort are to develop a network of farmer cooperators in which ideas can be exchanged among farmers, researchers and practitioners, research ideas get shared and prioritized, on-farm trials get implemented, and action plans can be developed to address constraints identified through research. Other goals include developing methods to reduce the cost of cover crop seed, promote opportunities for state and federal cost sharing of cover crop practices, and developing a system for tracking cover crop acreage across the Upper Susquehanna Basin and New York State. Importantly, the group aims to reach and partner with people who may be interested in contributing their time to this group to help achieve the goals stated above. One way they can do so is through a farmer survey to target research needs.
Currently, the NRCS is promoting cover crops and has EQIP funding in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which includes the Upper Susquehanna Basin. The EQIP cost share rate has recently been increased. If you have questions or are interested in participating in the EQIP program, the farmer survey, or with the work group in any way, please contact our the USC Coordinator, Aaron Ristow, at (607) 257-2340.