Recently, I had the honor of attending a national conference on cover crops and soil health. The conference was held in Omaha, Nebraska on February 17th to the 19th, sponsored primarily by the Howard G Buffett foundation and SARE (Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education). The attendees represented university specialists, seed vendors, farmers, non-profit groups, and government organizations focused on how to improve the health of our nation’s soils.
While measuring soil health on such a large scale (300+ million acres of annual cropland) is difficult, it’s somewhat easier to measure how many acres are simply using cover crops. A recurring theme throughout the conference was 20 million acres by 2020. Currently, there are approximately 2-3 million acres of cropland in this country that utilize cover crops – or a little less than 1%. We have seen adoption rates of cover crops increase at approximately 31% per year since 2006. Following this trend we’d be just at 20 million acres by 2020.
Why should we care? Soil function, or lack thereof, influences not only the crop field, but off-site water quality, increased fertilizer inputs, dependence on chemical fertilization, and excessive tillage. The entire conference was video recorded, and is available below. As many of the talks may have limited value to the average Permaculturist, I encourage everyone to at least glance through all of them. I am going to highlight some of the core principle and relevant sessions below.
Overall, this was an enthusiastic conference that left the participants leaving with hope.
Here is the entire conference – with PDFs of all presentations.
Here are some of the key presentations (there are dozens more presentations, all which are worth watching):
Perspectives on Soil Health, Howard W. Buffett, Trustee, Howard G. Buffett Foundation
NRCS National Soil Health Campaign, Dr. Wayne Honeycutt,
Deputy Chief for Science and Technology, USDA NRCS
The Biology of Soil Health, Dr. Kris Nichols, Soil Scientist, USDA ARS, North Dakota
Soil Health Planning Principles, Ray Archuleta, Conservation Agronomist, USDA NRCS
Evaluating Soil Health on Your Farm, Dr. Jill Clapperton, Principle Scientist and President, Rhizoterra, Inc
Soil Testing in Nature’s Image: Using Green Chemistry to Evaluate Soil Health,
Dr. Rick Haney, Soil Chemist / Microbiologist, USDA ARS
There are dozens more presentations, all which are worth watching.
- Cover Crops Solutions Chart
- OrBio – a Cover Crop Strategy for Market Gardens
- Under Cover Farmers (videos)
- Green Manure Resources