By Mary Pat O’Connor

Why cover crop? What is it? You may have heard the term and may have some idea of the concept. Agricultural best management practices and procedures are expanding throughout Walworth County by farmers interested in reducing sediment runoff and improve soil health leading to greater profitability.

In 2016 the Town of Delavan and Walworth County sponsored and funded an engineering firm, Berrini & Associates, to conduct and submit an extensive review of the Delavan Lake watershed. The document produced is the Delavan Lake Watershed Implementation Plan. The purpose of the report is to identify agricultural management practices that can reduce soil erosion and nutrient load into the Lake, as well as other procedures that can be implemented to assist in lake water health.

One of the practices suggested and explained in the Watershed Plan is the use of cover crops. This is a practice where farmers plant a temporary cover, which provides protection for soil and improves soil conditions. In addition, it holds sediment in place avoiding runoff into water systems.

The Delavan Lake Improvement Association supports farmers financially to encourage them to get started and try it for a year or two. If the health of the soil improves and they feel it is a positive result those farmers can help spread the word.

The DLIA currently supports up to eight farmers a year putting approximately 200 acres of land in cover crop, typically planted in the spring or fall.

This year the prolonged rain and flooding resulted in fields unplanted. While farmers are weighing out insurance options they can also consider a scientific approach to ensure long-term productivity. Planting a cover crop in this situation has the potential to capture applied nutrients, build organic matter, control weeds and erosion and to improve soil quality during the remainder of the season.

This year the DLIA is supporting an additional three farmers and 150 acres of cover crop on unplanted fields.

Currently, we enjoy the knowledge and excitement of Adam Lasch, an active farmer in the Delavan Lake watershed who consults farmers with soil health and land management practices. Lasch raises livestock and has seen positive results from implementing soil health principles on his own farm.

Education that asks for a change requires a shift in mindset. Lasch, Walworth County Conservation and the Delavan Lake Improvement Association are investigating putting together an active farmers group.

“One of the greatest hurdles to more widespread adoption of cover crops and regenerative agriculture is the large knowledge gap that exists.  It takes a completely different approach to implementing these practices from what is currently viewed as acceptable management. Having a peer group to discuss these new ideas and the inevitable challenges that appear, gives farmers more confidence to continue in the future,” Lasch said.

Farmers groups have popped up all over the country; they provide collaboration on navigating ways through trial and error conversations, and discussion on overcoming barriers to successful integration of a new system.

Our vision is to gather several farmers who can meet annually to discuss ways to overcome challenges associated with cover crop while reducing the environmental impacts associated with intensive agricultural production.

We look forward to assisting as many farmers as possible in strengthening their soils leading to greater profitability.

Please do not hesitate to contact the DLIA or me directly to learn more.

The Delavan Lake Watershed Implementation Plan can be found online at www.delavan-lake.org.

Mary Pat O’Connor is the president of the Delavan Lake Improvement Association, a not-for-profit organization. All of the farm programs are paid for by DLIA’s member dues and donations.

 
 

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