Workshop to educate producers about cover crops

Soil health education benefits producers and wildlife

Producers observe rainfall simulator.

© Ducks Unlimited

Producers observe rainfall simulator.

Ducks Unlimited partnered with NRCS, Blaine County Conservation District and Pheasants Forever to host a cover crop workshop in August. Producers from Blaine, Hill and Phillips counties learned about benefits incorporating cover crops can have on their operations. The principle benefits include minimizing disturbance, increasing plant diversity, maintaining living roots in the soil, keeping the soil covered and incorporating livestock. 

During the workshop NRCS Resource Conservationist Marni Thompson used a rainfall simulator to demonstrate how water impacts soils under different land management practices. The simulator compares rainfall impacts five different field samples simultaneously. 

"The amount of water the soil can efficiently use to build soil health on a field with a cover crop compared to wheat fallow is immediately evident," said Adam McDaniel, DU conservation specialist in Montana. "The cover crop field absorbs the water and soil run off is minimal, whereas the wheat fallow sample has significant soil erosion and poor water infiltration." 

The group visited cover crop fields planted with various seed mixes and discussed the importance of designing a seed mix that will satisfy a producer’s objectives. Depending on the operation, a producer may want to increase soil organic matter, reduce soil compaction, improve water infiltration or enhance grazing and haying opportunities for livestock. One way to increase plant diversity and improve soil cover is to plant cover crops. 

The workshop ended with a social hour and discussion about cost-share opportunities through programs offered by the partners conducting the workshop. Ducks Unlimited staff in Montana is getting guidance from DU biologists in North Dakota to develop a cost-share cover crop program for farmers interested in incorporating cover crops into their rotations.

By helping producers plant cover crops, DU’s objective is to improve water quality by reducing chemical and fertilizer runoff and decreasing sedimentation in wetlands. This leads to healthier wetlands and improved waterfowl habitat. The cover crop program also seeks to alleviate grazing and haying pressure on native grasslands and pastures during peak nesting season by increasing forage opportunities for producers with mixed operations. This will improve significant waterfowl nesting habitat in agricultural areas of the Prairie Pothole Region.  

For more information about Montana’s cover crop program contact Adam McDaniel at 406-564-0709 or amcdaniel@ducks.org

Check out a video demonstrating the NRCS rainfall simulator.