Network and Stay the Course

October 22, 2016 02:40 AM

Cover crop support groups foster opportunities to learn from others

Trying something new can be intimidating, especially when it could have a direct effect on your bottom line. While cover crops are becoming more common, there are still many unknowns that challenge farmers.

Southeast Missouri farmer Johnny Hunter has nearly 100% of his acres in cover crops. He says networking with other farmers and experts was, and continues to be, critical to his success.

After three years of using cover crops he created the Missouri Delta Soil Health Alliance (MDSHA)—a support group of sorts for those interested and invested in cover crops. 

“You don’t want to do it [start planting cover crops] by yourself,” he says. “I wanted an organization that brought a whole lot of ideas to the table.”

MDSHA brings together farmers, Natural Resources Conservation Services agents, Soil and Water Conservation Districts experts, university researchers and private industry.

The group started in 2014 with an open meeting for farmers to learn from experts about the benefits and risks of cover crops. The annual meeting that year hosted more than 200 farmers and even more in 2015. This year, the meeting will be held in December and feature David Brant, who Hunter calls the “Godfather” of cover crops.

In addition to their annual meeting, MDSHA hosts spring, summer and fall tours. The tours showcase cover crop mixes, crop rotations, irrigation, equipment and farmer case studies.

In the late 1990s, Rodney Rulon of Arcadia, Ind., started experimenting with cover crops after hearing about the bio-tillage benefits at a no-till conference. Today, 80% of his acres are planted in cover crops.

Rulon found a way to learn from others in his virtual coffee shop. “We have a peer network through—it’s primarily for business and marketing but we’ve incorporated cover crops,” Rulon says.

He started a private channel for cover crops to create a place to learn from the expertise and experiences of other farmers without the distraction of unfocused mainstream discussion sites. Farmers pay a fee to join the group but benefit from networking with like-minded peers and receive an invitation to the annual meeting Rulon hosts.

“We talk about not only the good of cover crops but the challenges, too,” Rulon says.

In addition to participating in his virtual coffee shop, Rulon continues to reach out to the farmers who first encouraged him to try cover crops. 

With more than 20 years of experience himself, he enjoys the opportunity to encourage farmers who are just starting and helping them learn from his experiences.

“It can be frustrating sometimes,” Rulon says. “We don’t have the resources on cover crops that we do on cash crops, but reach out to someone and stay the course. There will be wins and failures, but get out there and try and learn.” 

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