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Even FFA chapters get behind promoting cover crops

Taylor Lord, CCSI cover crops in glass containers
CONSERVATIONAL CENTERPIECES: These "bouquets" of cover crops adorned tables at the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District annual meeting.
Students grow cover crops that become centerpieces at soil and water events.

Floral centerpieces adorn the tables at many soil and water conservation district annual meetings and other agricultural events. When folks arrived at the Washington County SWCD annual meeting this year, they saw centerpieces, but they weren’t flowers. Instead, they were living centerpieces — each container at each table was filled with live, green, growing cover crops!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To a conservation farmer or conservation enthusiast, cover crops are a beautiful sight. That’s why Lisa Holscher, director of the Conservation Cropping Stewardship Initiative, was so impressed when she saw the centerpieces. CCSI has been at the heart of the soil health movement over the past several years, supporting farmers and seeking ways to educate others about the benefits of conservation farming. Cover crops are becoming a popular way to help return soils to a healthier state, Holscher says.

How do you get healthy, green cover crops ready for display on tables in winter? The Washington County SWCD asked a local FFA chapter for help. Eastern FFA in eastern Washington County accepted the challenge of growing cover crops over winter. Then they prepared the centerpieces with various cover crops the FFA members had grown. Todd Elgin is the Eastern FFA advisor.

The centerpieces were even educational. The students not only grew the cover crops and created the centerpieces, but also identified each cover crop, Holscher notes.

If you hadn’t seen forage radishes growing before, you got a chance to see what they looked like up close and personal. One centerpiece consisted of only annual ryegrass. Some people prefer it as their cover crop. Others prefer mixes. Another centerpiece consisted of a cereal rye and radish mix. Cereal rye is a favorite for many people ahead of soybeans, Holscher says.

One centerpiece featured oats and radishes. Oats winterkill and radishes usually winterkill, depending upon the winter. Species that winterkill can be ideal for someone trying cover crops for the first time, experts say.

Holscher was so impressed with the centerpieces that she made sure they were also on the tables for the Southern Region Soil Health Workshop held near Salem the next day.

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