When the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) held a special sign-up this spring to encourage landowners to plant cover crops, they never expected the great response that came in from Wisconsin farmers. More than 500 people applied, which added up to about $4 million when all the eligible applications (300) were processed.
“We had an absolutely overwhelming response to the special pilot cover crop signup,” said Jimmy Bramblett, State Conservationist for NRCS in Wisconsin. “Farmers are rapidly moving to try cover crops to start re-building the health of the soil. We are excited to see so many farmers interested in pursuing the health and sustainability of our farm land.”
NRCS had initially set aside $750,000 for the spring signup. With the huge number of applications that were received, they allocated an additional $778,000. That still leaves over 130 eligible applications unfunded. “We are requesting additional money from the national pool for Wisconsin to fund as many applications as we possibly can,” said Bramblett.
Cover crops are highly effective in building healthy soil, increasing organic matter, reducing soil erosion, and suppressing weeds. In Wisconsin, cover crops may include rye, oats, millet, wheat, red clover, turnips, canola, radishes, or other species, either alone or in combination.
“We will hold another cover crop sign-up next spring,” said Bramblett. Spring sign-ups work well for cover crops, as farmers have time to assess any unplanted acres, crop loss, or weather damage that cover crops may help address. Additionally, cover crops are being recognized by many Local Work Groups as a priority practice for the General Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Local Work Groups provide recommendations to NRCS on how conservation program delivery should be prioritized in a three to four county area across Wisconsin. The application deadline for General EQIP is usually held in early fall to allow time for planning prior to snow cover. Farmers interested in planning ahead to schedule cover crops for next summer can submit an application for consideration during this general signup also.
Cover crops reduce wind or water erosion by literally covering the soil. They also use up excess nutrients in the soil reducing risk of runoff, they sequester carbon, and improve soil structure. For more information on cover crops, see Wisconsin Cover Crops factsheet, and “How to Establish Cover and Green Manure Crops”.
For more information, visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov, or contact the NRCS office at the USDA Service Center serving your county.