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Cover Crops: Preserving Water Quality

Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Wisconsin News Connection ishere.

EAST TROY, Wis. - The annual Cover Crop Conference, coming up Oct. 4 at the Jackson Town Hall in Jackson, will examine the role of cover crops in soil and water quality against a backdrop of diminished protections.

The event is sponsored by Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and several county extension and land conservation departments. This year's emphasis on water and soil reflects an increasingly important concern, since the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has laid off hundreds of scientists in the past few years.

The tours connected with the conference will take place in the Milwaukee River watershed, which research director Dr. Jim Stute of the Institute describes as an "impacted watershed." "It's identified by EPA as something that needs to be addressed, and so we're going to talk about soil quality, but more importantly water quality and how farmers are using cover crops to try to keep the water clean, to keep the nutrients and sediment load out of the watershed," he explains.

Those who attend will hear from farmers who practice cover cropping and have the opportunity to observe on-farm demonstrations, to see first-hand how cover cropping can impact water quality. Stute says this day-long conference will have great appeal to a wide variety of people engaged in production agriculture. "Any farmer that's interested in conserving their soil, any farmer that's interested in soil health, and the positive impacts that it has on the yields of crops that follow the cover crop, and agency personnel - so, anyone that works in the area of conservation," he adds. Other topics include no-till cover crops after wheat, and interseeding clover into corn. According to Stute, the benefits of cover cropping have become more and more apparent to farmers.

With diminished EPA oversight expected under the Trump administration and the declining role of the Wisconsin DNR in water-quality management issues, the decisions farmers make will have a greater impact on everyone. "People are really interested in terms of the impact on soil health," he says. "It used to be that there were two groups that were interested: one was the organic sector, and then the no-till sector in conventional agriculture. But now, everyone's interested."

Registration for the conference is $10, and registration information is on the Michael Fields website, michaelfields.org.

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