You will have a hard time going to a meeting this winter without hearing talk about cover crops and soil health sometime during the program. Yet cover crops are catching on slower in areas with flat, black soils, particularly in north-central Indiana. Purdue University Extension and local soil and water conservation districts in five counties joined together to obtain a grant and initiate a project to learn and show farmers about cover crops.
"There's not much research on cover crops and how they work here," says Paul Marcellino, Howard County Extension ag educator. "We just want our farmers to be able to try them and see what works."
The joint group obtained a grant from the Clean Water Indiana program, administered within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture's Division of Soil Conservation. The project officially began a year ago, and is a three-year project, with possible extension if a new grant is submitted and approved.
The counties involved are Howard, Tipton, Clinton, Carroll and Tippecanoe. Five farmers in the five-county area are cooperating as host sites for cover crop demonstration and information gathering plots.
"We're starting simple, mainly with cereal rye and oats and radishes in comparison," Marcellino says. "Last year the oats and radishes went in late and we didn't get much stand. The cereal rye performed well."
The project includes soil testing and even stalk nitrate testing before harvest to determine how N is being captured and used in the plots.
"I don't want to recommend something if it isn't going to work and be profitable," Marcellino says. "It appears to work, but we don't have enough data yet to make solid conclusions and recommendations," he adds.
"Farmers have to get some benefit back for the expense of seeding a cover crop and for taking time out of a key part of the year to plant it," he says. "That's what we're trying to determine – what is the payback?"