Making Cover Crops Pay Webinar Series

The Making Cover Crops Pay series (available on YouTube and linked below) includes three practical webinars that have discussions and presentations by technical specialists and experienced farmers. This series is presented by Soils at Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Soil Team, Grain Farmers of Ontario, and the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

The first session in this series focuses on ways that you can maximize manure in combination with cover crops. We hear from Dan Breen, an experienced dairy farmer from Putnam, Ontario, who works with cover crops and manure on his farm. Dan has been focusing on enhancing the natural system through best management practices that he incorporates on his farm including no-till and manure applications on living cover crops. The next speaker we hear from is Adrian Guntensperger who has a background in dairy farming and operates a custom dry manure application business out of Seaforth, Ontario. Similar to Dan, Adrian also focuses on applying manure on a living crop. On his family farm, he incorporates a strip-tillage system for corn and a no-till system for soybeans. Lastly, this session features Christine Brown who is a field crop sustainability specialist with an extensive background working with manure. She highlights a major benefit in providing manure to cover crops, which is the subsequent biomass it provides. Christine says that applying manure to cover crops results in, “… additional benefits with that extra biomass. That biomass helps with water holding capacity, with adding soil diversity to the microbial population, and it helps with nutrient cycling”.

The second session in the webinar series focuses on utilizing cover crops to help manage weeds. Dr. Francois Tardif is from the University of Guelph and has extensive expertise in this area of study. He shares basic information on the role of cover crops and how they can help with managing weeds through explaining the plant-to-plant interaction between cover crops and weeds. He says that, “With cover crops in general we’re looking at germination and emergence as being the main targets … we are trying to prevent either germination (of weeds) or if they emerge trying to stunt their growth so they don’t take over”. Understanding indirect (competition for resources), direct (allelopathy), and environmental modification (e.g. soil temperature) effects of cover crops is key to make best use of them for weed management. We then hear from Mike Cowbrough, a weed management specialist with field crops at OMAFRA. He shares that planting a cover crop after harvest creates an environment that is unsuitable for weed germination. The cover crop canopy provides a less than ideal environment for weed emergence and development, which is a major overall benefit for on-farm weed control. Lastly, Charlene Whattam and Mark Burnham, farmers from Douglas and Cobourg, respectively,  shared their experiences. This includes their successes, challenges, and how this management worked on their individual land.

The third and final session investigates how cover crops can fit into your livestock system. This webinar includes presentations from farmers, Tyler Lester, a cash cropper from Prince Edward county, and Reinhoud Verhoef, a Belmont-area dairy farmer, who share their on-farm experiences with growing cover crops as dairy forage. Tyler shares his experience with a symbiotic relationship that has developed between neighbours as a result of his cover crop integration (oats, peas, and cereal rye). His neighbour is using these crops for feed in their dairy system and Tyler’s farm receives manure to help further improve soil fertility. Reinhoud then goes onto share his experience with introducing cover crops in their rotation approximately 5 years ago. He has found that since incorporating rye into his cow feed, he has seen improvements in the production of butterfat. Lastly, we hear from Christine O’Reilly, Forage and Grazing Specialist with OMAFRA. With perennial hay being considered a high value crop now, there is emphasis on integrating annual forages into crop rotations. She states that, “the role of annuals in our forage production systems has changed” and therefore, “annual forage crops are an important forage inventory management tool that we can take better advantage of than we have in the past”. This is especially relevant as forage value and cost of production has changed significantly in the last 30 years.

Offering this webinar series through an online platform allowed for more flexibility, which included expanding the audience for this information . This also meant that we could have presentations and experiences from farmers and technical specialists from around the province. We appreciate all of the information, discussion and expertise that speakers graciously provided us.