The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will host forums across the nation Feb. 18 to help farmers learn about using cover crops to improve soil health.
NRCS will offer more than 225 forums, including several in the Pacific Northwest. The sessions coincide with the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Neb. The forums will feature live-streaming video of the national conference opening session.
In Idaho, a forum in Boise runs from 8 a.m. to noon. Opening sessions of the conference will be shown in Moscow and Pocatello, according to public affairs specialist Alexis Collins.
In Oregon, forums in Salem, Redmond, Klamath Falls and Pendleton run from 9:30 a.m. to noon.
In Washington, forums in Spokane, Waterville and Walla Walla run from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Gina Kerzman, Washington public affairs officer for NRCS in Spokane, said the forums give landowners information on using cover crops.
Cover crops stop erosion and restore nutrients to the soil. Farmers grow a mixture of crops on their fields, then use use tillage or chemicals to reincorporate the plants into the soil.
NRCS is offering three years of financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help offset the cost of introducing cover crops.
Agency planners can work with landowners to determine the best cover crop for their rotation, Kerzman said.
Tracy Hanger, NRCS state agronomist, said cover crop goals and climate regions vary, so there is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation for a cover crop mix.
“As far as soil health goes, the longer you can keep something in the ground, the more you feed your microbiology in the ground,” Hanger said. “Any type of cover crop that you can extend your live roots (with) is going to be beneficial.”
In Washington, Hanger hopes to balance the availability of moisture with cover crop use.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” she said. “Where can we push the bubble and get more live roots longer in the season?”
In higher rainfall zones and irrigated farmland, cover crops are relatively easy to establish, Hanger said.
“We’re trying to focus on the dryland portions, because there’s a lot of things that haven’t been tried,” she said.
The Washington NRCS is collaborating with Washington State University Extension for the forums and hopes to work on further cover crop research trials, Hanger said.
After the session, landowners can work with NRCS officials to evaluate the health of the soil on their land, Kerzman said.
Hanger said farmers should feed their soil to get better crops.
“I’m hoping to turn the thought process of farming around, back to the ground, and really take care of what we have before we deplete it down,” she said.
How to register
For more information or to register for the Idaho forums, contact Alexis Collins at 208-685-6978 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To register for the Salem forum at the USDA Service Center, 650 Hawthorn Ave., Suite 130, call 541-967-5925, ext. 121.
To register for the Redmond forum at the USDA Service Center, 625 SE Salmon Ave., call 541-993-6099.
To register for the Pendleton forum at Umatilla Hall, 2411 NW Carden Ave., call 541-276-8131.
To register for the Klamath Falls forum at the USDA Service Center, 2316 S. Sixth St., call 541-883-6924, ext. 122.
Contact Ty Meyer to register for the Spokane forum at the Enduris Building, at 1610 S. Technology Blvd., at 509-995-1220 or email@example.com
Contact Tracy Hanger to register for the Walla Walla forum at the Columbia REA Building, at 2929 Melrose St., 509-979-6360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Kay Fisher to register for the Waterville forum at the NCW District Fairgrounds at 601 N. Monroe St., at 509-888-6732 or email@example.com
Idaho NRCS: www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/id/home/
Oregon NRCS: www.or.nrcs.usda.gov
Washington NRCS: www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/wa/home/