Interactive Workshop in Concordia Promotes Improved Soil Quality through the Use of Cover Crops

Interactive Workshop in Concordia Promotes Improved Soil Quality through the Use of Cover Crops

An interactive workshop was held in Cloud County last week emphasizing no-till and cover crop implementation and in-field soil health practices.

The workshop was sponsored by Kansas Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kansas Soil Health Alliance, the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands & Streams, and the Cloud County Conservation District.

A cover crop is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your farm.

Rodney Heinen grew up on very poor eroded soil in Nemaha County.  He now resides in southeast Nebraska and farms in Nebraska and Iowa.  Rodney traveled with the family wheat harvest crew as a kid discovering many different ways to farm.  After finishing college, soils soaked his attention and has since become his passion.

Rodney works with farmers on four continents to provide what knowledge he can in return for other knowledge.  He says cover crops should be viewed as a long-term investment in improved soil health and farm management.

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Chad and Jennifer Simmelink have a mix crop and livestock operation growing corn, wheat, soybeans and many forages.  Their livestock operation is primarily a bred heifer program with some other classes of cattle from time to time.  Their farm has been 100% no-till since 2003 and they began implementing cover crops in 2005.

They continue to implement new practices working to balance improvements in soil health with increasing profitability.

Jennifer is the coordinator of the Kansas Soil Health Alliance, working with Kansas growers, agricultural groups, governmental agencies, NGO's, and food production industries, to educate Kansas growers on the value of soil health practices and how they can be implemented to improve Kansas soils and bodies of water.

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Lucinda Stuenkel has been owner/manager of Sunny Day Farms grass-fed/grass-finished beef and Stuenkel Farms cow/calf operation near Palmer, Kansas since 2010.  The farm is 1,400 acres of rolling hills.  The hilly native grassland is managed for rotational grazing of cow/calf and grass-fed/grass-finished beef, lamb, goat and pastured chickens for 8 livestock owners, and custom calving for 7 cow owners.  Row crops on the flatter land and deeper topsoil include: wheat, rye, triticale, oats, milo, soybeans, alfalfa, brome and prairie hay.

Stuenkel says cover crops are planted between and after each row crop to improve the soil health and fertility, and to attract beneficial pollinator insects.  These farming practices provide supplemental grazing for the livestock, reduce input costs for the crops, and provide flowers for honey bees.

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Speakers at the event included Kenny Beach, a farmer and rancher from Clay County who has over 20 years experience with no-till farming; Candy Thomas, the Regional Soil Health Specialist for Kansas and Nebraska with the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Mike Cleveland, a farmer and businessman in Cloud County and owner of Higher Grounds Farms, LLC; and Austin Petry with Progressive Ag Innovation that manufactures roller crimpers designed to work in cover crops and help farmers protect their soil.

A rainfall simulation was also presented at the workshop to illustrate the water infiltration and reduced runoff benefits of using cover crops. 

Adam Bauer, Project Manager for the Milford Lake Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), was in attendance at the workshop.  He told KNCK News the Kansas WRAPS process offers a framework that engages citizens and other stakeholders in a teamwork environment aimed at protecting and restoring Kansas watershed, or any area of land whose water drains to a single point.

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WRAPS represents a shift from “top-down” government intervention in watershed issues, to a more citizen-stakeholder approach, in which funds, guidance and technical assistance are provided for stakeholders to reach consensus on issues of relevance in their watershed, and then design and execute a plan to address those issues.