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Centuries-old sustainable agriculture practice is 'cool' again

Published on 03 July 2014

Citing the use of cover crops since the time of the pharaohs, founding partner of Grassland Oregon, Risa DeMasi, moderated a panel of industry experts gathered at the recent American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) convention to discuss the resurgence of interest in the production, distribution and regulation of cover crop seed.

“What farmers are ‘discovering’ today is not new,” said DeMasi, whose company has been a pioneer in the research, development and promotion of cover crops over the past decade. “We have the benefit of utilizing historical information and experience to develop the best quality products to meet the needs of today’s growers.”

Responding to both domestic and international demands for information and research on the benefits of cover crops, ASTA announced the formation of a working group to advocate for policies and programs to increase cover crop adoption.

Among the benefits that are now being attributed to cover crops are their ability to protect soil from erosion and weather extremes; to contribute to effective water management during periods of drought or over-saturation; to stimulate diverse soil microbes that enhance plant nutrient recycling; to improve soil structure and aeration; and to provide a carbon source for building soil organic matter levels.

Lesser known benefits include management of weeds and pests and support for pollinator species.

One of the panel members at ASTA’s convention cited a SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Survey that credited cover crops for the 9.6 percent yield increase in corn and the 11 percent yield increase in soybean during the 2012 drought year.

Representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), the Sustainable Ag Research and Education program, the Conservation Technology Information Center and other seed companies who were also among the speakers discussed the importance of providing education and technical assistance to farmers for successful use of cover crops, the role of regulators in ensuring high quality seed and the need for stakeholders throughout the research-to-consumption chain to communicate and collaborate.

“I know many seed and production companies are anxious to know what is being forecasted, recommended and included in government programs and insurance programs in order to know what should be planted, in what quantities, in order to meet demands and expectations of consumer stakeholders within the system,” said DeMasi.

“Communication and collaboration are going to be key to providing farmers with the information – and the seed – they need to apply this long-ago proven practice to maximizing and protecting their yields today.”  FG

—From Grassland Oregon news release