Snug as a Soil in a Cover Crop Rug

                                              By Troy Bishopp003

As the fall hastens and the outer-ware protects you against the elements, your land is also in need of a comfy soil quilt to safeguard its organic matter and microbe family. Dr. Vandana Shiva, said, “In traditional agriculture, the soil is the mother. She’s the mother who gives, to whom you must give back.”  Science has proven this “giving back” recipe for healthy soils includes covering the soil for winter with a cover crop blanket.

Throughout the Upper Susquehanna River Watershed Basin from Allegany to Delaware County, this strategy of securing open corn silage ground and getting a cover crop growing before winter has been a priority for the Upper Susquehanna Coalition family of conservation districts and their farmers and agency partners. The cover crop working group “promotes its use in New York State through facilitation of farmer-to-farmer communication, on-farm research, demonstration and dissemination of research findings, and to promote technical and cost-sharing assistance. They advance the development of these agricultural systems that are economically viable and energy efficient; improve soil and water quality; and enhance carbon sequestration and nitrogen use efficiency.”

One of the champions in this effort is the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District. Now in its 4th season of planting cover crops for improving soil health, the district has eclipsed the 775 acre threshold with funding help from farmers, NYS Ag & Mkts, the NYS Environmental Protection Fund Soil Health Grant and The Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

“The success is in the logistics and getting seed in the ground as soon as the corn choppers harvest the first plants, said District madison-swcd-technician-carl-bartlett-fills-no-till-drill-with-soil-improving-rye-cover-drop-seedManager, Steve Lorraine. To make this work cohesively, we work closely with Clinton Tractor Company for equipment rentals and Growmark-FScover-crop-pic and Carovail in purchasing 40 tons of certified rye and clover seed.  It also helps that we have seasonal staff to stay in the cab all day and that we perform most of our own maintenance.”

The district employs a 13 foot Krause no-till drill and used a 21 foot Brillion soil conditioner/roller behind a broadcast seeder to get the job done. On the horizon is trying to incorporate a highboy cover-crop interseeder during the growing season.  “The biggest challenges we have is the “planting window”, (Sept. 1st to October 10th) and the fickle weather here in Upstate NY.  At over 70 dollars per acre for getting a cover in and the benefit of increased organic matter, reduced soil erosion and 20 to 30 units of nitrogen for spring crop production, it pays to be as efficient and timely as we can”, said Lorraine.

DeRuyter Dairy Farmer, Steve Best said, “There’s no question the corn is better the next year planted into a terminated cover crop. It also helps us when manure is not available on our far away fields.”

“The District is trying to expose farmers and consumers to the new approaches in soil building techniques. It’s been a cultural mindset change to plant a green crop to feed the soil and then not harvest it.  It’s a complex issue, said Lorraine.  It’s a long term covercrop-2-weeks-apartinvestment that intrinsically helps but biological systems aren’t fully measured in terms of dollars yet.  We’re definitely working on that so we can fully know if farmers would do it on their own accord without agency help.”

To access the Upper Susquehanna Coalition Conservation Tillage Initiative and the New York State Agronomic Cover Cropping Workgroup, visit or contact Emily Dekar, USC Ag Coordinator at (607)972-2346.

Published in Country Folks by Lee Publications,Inc.