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Local Farmer Plants Cover Crops to Improve His Farm

Vern Wick of Jordan has been farming his whole life. He currently runs a 50 cow dairy farm with his wife Becky. Growing up farming, Vern knew just how he wanted to run his operation. Then their son, David, went to SDSU for dairy production, learned about cover crops from a friend, and sent his parents links to videos of cover crop experts with instructions to watch them. These videos challenged the way Vern’s farm was being run, but they also talked about how cover crops could reduce erosion and increase the health of his soil. Instead of insisting that the way he was currently farming was the only way, Vern decided to dig deeper. He recognized that there were areas of his farm that could benefit from cover crops.

Since 2016, Vern has attended six different cover crop workshops, including the Scott SWCD’s Cover Crop Seminar last spring, to get as much information as he could. He learned how cover crops can reduce erosion, help with weed suppression, and decrease the amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are needed. Vern was convinced that he could make cover crops work on his farm if he set his mind to it.

He visited the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District’s (SWCD) office in Jordan, and talked to Resource Conservationist, Scott Schneider. Scott worked with Vern to come up with a cover crop plan for his farm. Vern applied for cover crop incentives and in exchange committed to planting cover crops for three years. He took a risk by making a change to his operation, but the benefits of the cover crops and the incentives have been worth it. Early last spring, Vern planted a mix of barley, oats, and peas as his spring cover crop and harvested them as feed for his cows. He then used a no-till drill to plant his corn and soybeans. In the fall, after harvest, he used a no-till drill to plant a second cover crop of cereal rye. There were heavy rains in the fall of 2017 and after those rain storms, Vern noticed erosion occurring on many bare fields in the area, but saw very little erosion on his fields with cover crops. He is confident that had he not planted the cover crops, soil from his field would have been washed away as well.

2017 was Vern’s first year planting cover crops but it will not be his last. “Planting cover crops makes sense for our land. Before we were destroying the soil, and now we are helping it out.” Not only is he improving the soil, he did not see any drop in yield. Cover crops have been a win-win on his farm.

Neighboring farmers have noticed the change and have asked Vern what he is up to. He tells them about his cover crops and the benefits and encourages them to try it. The most common answer he hears is, “I’ll see how it works for you first, then I’ll think about it.”

But that is alright with Vern. He has started seeing the benefits of cover crops already. In a few years, after having planted cover crops for multiple years he’ll be able to show his neighbors hard evidence of how it has worked and perhaps persuade them to incorporate cover crops into their own rotations.

Vern has advice for anyone considering cover crops: “Go to seminars, talk to other people who have tried it, get as much information as you can, then figure out how it can work for you.”

If you are interested in learning more about cover crops and the incentive program, you can call the Scott SWCD at 952-492-5425. They will work with you to figure out how cover crops could fit into your operation and help you create a cover crop plan.

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