The growing season is returning, and Bradford County residents and farmers are happy to see green again. April finds farmers looking forward to seeing the fruits of their fall planting efforts.
Bradford and Tioga County Conservation Districts will be hosting cover crop field walks at three locations on April 23, 24 and 25. Each field walk will run from noon to 1 p.m., and will give farmers an opportunity to grab a sandwich and look at cover crops that were planted in August and September with the “high-boy” cover crop inter-seeder. These field walks are informal and help farmers share lessons learned and evaluate options for improving crop production and soil health.
The schedule will be as follows: Monday, April 22, noon to 1 p.m. at Kreger Farm, Route 414 west of Liberty; Tuesday, April 23, from noon to 1 p.m. at the YHEC building south of Rome on Route 187; and on Thursday, April 25, from noon to 1 p.m. at the Roy Thomas Farm on Route 14 between Canton and Troy.
In 2018, the Bradford County Conservation District acquired a high clearance cover crop inter-seeder for use on local farms. This provides an alternative for getting living plants growing in fields leading into weather. Farmers call these cover crops and they pay big dividends for healthy, productive soil.
This machine is a high clearance spray rig that has been altered to distribute dry seed with an air/blower system. Cover crop seed can be broadcast under corn or soybean canopies. This method can open new opportunities to farmers in our region.
Cover crop growth is an integral part of soil health and preventing sediment loss to local water sources and the Chesapeake Bay. The relatively short growing season in Northern Pennsylvania provides a short window for cover crop establishment. This planting method widens that window.
Seed can be delivered below the crop canopy via drop tubes on a 90-foot-wide boom. The inter-seeder can travel through standing crops, placing cover crop seed on the soil surface before harvest, allowing cover crop establishment to begin earlier.
Crops like corn grain and soybeans are rarely followed by cover crops in much of Pennsylvania because of late harvest and our shorter growing season, stagnating soil biology in the fall and spring and leaving soil more susceptible to erosion. This innovation opens the door for covers in these crop scenarios.
The method has been used successfully in other areas, and the first seedings in 2018 show promise. This project has been a partnership of six neighboring Pennsylvania county conservation districts including Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Wyoming.
Purchase of the inter-seeder has been made possible by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC). BCCD is a sub-recipient in this grant, receiving funds to acquire and operate the inter-seeder. Cooperating farms help with the cost of operating the inter-seeder by paying roughly $15/ac.
In 2019, the Conservation Innovation Grant is providing additional support for this project from USDA-NRCS. Funds will be available to pay for 50 percent of seed costs for farmers using the inter-seeder to plant cover crops. Minimizing the risk a farmer takes to implement a new management practice can encourage producers to try new approaches.
Initial goals for the project are to establish cover crops on 2,000 acres annually for the 2019 and 2020 crop years, for a total of 4,000 acres in northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York counties. These will largely be crop acres previously unable to establish cover crops because of timing of harvest.
The inter-seeder is in action already this year, completing some spring seedings. It will also be side-dressing nitrogen and planting cover crop in July on several farms.
Contact the Bradford County Conservation District to schedule the inter-seeder at your farm for these or innovative practices. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd. in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall, or contact them by calling (570) 485-3144 or by visiting www.bccdpa.com.