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Researchers and Educators Collaborate to Teach Youth about Cover Crops

December 6, 2012


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service recently launched a soil health initiative entitled, “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.” The initiative aims to help farmers enhance soil health by raising awareness and sharing methods and success stories. 

This is the fourth post in a five-post series on sustainable soil management, research, and demonstration, with a specific focus on USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.  SARE has over two decades of experience in helping farmers and agencies like Extension and NRCS focus on soil quality.

Today’s post is reprinted with permission from the North Central Region SARE Field Notes newsletter.

Guest Post by Marie Flanagan, North Central Region SARE Communications Specialist

Across the region, farmers are planting cover crops, a method of revitalizing soil, curbing erosion, and managing pests. Steve Sutera, an Extension educator at South Dakota State University (SDSU), saw an opportunity to bring together Bon Homme County’s Extension service, FFA Chapter, 4-H Club, and ongoing research at SDSU.

In 2008, Sutera submitted a proposal and was awarded a $2,000 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Youth Educator Grant Program to educate students about cover crops, both in the field and in the classroom.

Through a SARE-supported project, youth learned about planting and
harvesting cover crops. Photo Credit: Steve Sutera.

“The Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU encourages Extension Educators to get youth involved in our research projects,” explained Sutera. “I felt this was an excellent opportunity to involve, educate, and empower local youth to assist with this sustainable agriculture project. It provided an opportunity for youth to take on leadership and responsibility roles. Also, the work they accomplished could be reported in their FFA or 4-H project work.”

Gary Kriz, a local farmer who was producing winter wheat, helped Sutera and area youth prepare 1½ acres for their test plots. Starting in July, with assistance from a technician from the

SDSU Plant Science Department, Sutera and a dozen students staked out the plots, planted 10 different crops with 12 repetitions throughout, and put up signs and markers. Crops included oats, barley, triticale, cowpeas, soybeans, turnips, radishes, and millets. The students labeled the harvest bags and did all the harvesting. Over the course of three fall harvests, they submitted close to 40 samples to SDSU to be weighed, dried, and analyzed for feed quality. In addition to the hands-on field work, Sutera provided 2½ hours of classroom instruction for 24 Bon Homme High School students. Several of the students who had assisted with the plot shared information and observations.

“The teamwork and cooperation from the FFA students and 4-H members was outstanding,” said Sutera. “Doing a hands-on project such as the research plot was really a great way for them to connect and understand the whole concept of how cover crops can help us sustain and improve our environment and our land as a resource.”

Sutera sent the samples to SDSU to be evaluated for feed quality based on total dry matter production, crude protein content, acid detergent fiber content, and neutral detergent fiber content. The data from the samples gathered by these students will contribute to an ongoing, multi-state, USDA Special Grant project called “Five States Ruminant Consortium.” This ongoing

$563,000 special grant is supporting research and Extension faculty and stakeholder cooperators who are examining opportunities within the ruminant livestock industry for economic development in western South Dakota, southwestern North Dakota, southeastern Montana, eastern Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska.

“The incorporation of cover crops into our farming practices is a concept that will take time to implement,” said Sutera. “The information and data from this research project will be used to help producers make good decisions when they select the cover crops and mixes that will benefit them, primarily for grazing alternatives. By providing our youth with a positive educational hands-on experience, they can now assist us in promoting cover crops as a part of the sustainable agriculture efforts in our area.”

Read more about this NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant project online on the SARE project reporting website (http://mysare.sare.org/mySARE/ProjectReport.aspx?do=viewProj&pn=YENC08-003).

Ready to learn more about Cover Crops? Managing Cover Crops Profitably (http://www.northcentralsare.org/Educational-Resources/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition) explores how and why cover crops work and provides all the information needed to build cover crops into any farming operation.

Read the Rest of the Series


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Research, Education & Extension


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