Crawford, Grant cover crop program a big win for region

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A plane from Sky Share LLC of DeWitt, Iowa, applies cover crop seeds to a cornfield in Crawford County in early September. (Photos courtesy of Karyl Fritsche)

This is some of the equipment used to transfer and load the cover crop seed mixture into the planes at Prairie du Chien Municipal Airport.

 

By Ted Pennekamp

 

Anyone driving by the Prairie du Chien Municipal Airport in early September may have noticed three yellow planes along with equipment for loading seed parked near the terminal building.

The planes are owned by Sky Share LLC of DeWitt, Iowa, and were hired by Black Sand Granary of Patch Grove to apply a cover crop seed mixture to farms in Crawford and Grant counties.

This is the sixth year for the USDA-NRCS cover crop seeding program in Crawford County and the first year in Grant County. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist, Karyl Fritsche, said the program has become quite a success and has grown a lot since it began in 2014.

In its first year, there were seven producers in the program and about 1,700 acres were seeded. Last year, 3,800 acres were seeded. The total acres applied in September of 2019 was 9,857.3 in Crawford and Grant counties. Twenty-four producers in Crawford County participated in the program and there were 10 in Grant County.

“It’s exciting to see all of the growth,” said Fritsche about the cover crop program. “It’s local people servicing the project with locally produced seed and local, family-owned companies involved. It’s a big win for the region.”

All of the seed for the program was produced by wholesaler Biddick Incorporated of Livingston, Wis. In previous years, most of the seed came from Canada.

Fritsche said that between 2014 and 2018, 15,750 tons of soil was saved because of the cover crop program. In 2019 alone, 20,700 tons of soil was saved, which is the equivalent of 1,000 quad axle truck loads of top soil.

The price per acre seeded came down in 2019 to $57.25 from $60 per acre in 2018. The cover crop program cost the producers nothing in 2019, said Fritsche.

A cover crop can include grasses, small grains, legumes, forbs, and/or other herbaceous plants established for seasonal cover and conservation purposes. Fritsche said the seeds are applied to fields such as cornfields and produce a living cover on the ground surface for a longer period of time. She said this helps prevent erosion and produces a food source for livestock in the spring. It also helps absorb spring rains by improving the infiltration rates of the rain water into the ground. Another benefit is more fertile soil.

The application of the cover crops this year began on Sept. 2 and finished on Sept. 8. Black Sand Granary created two mixtures. Mixture A was 58 pounds of winter cereal rye, 26 pounds of winter wheat and one pound of purple top turnip per acre. Mixture B was 48 pounds of oats and three pounds of medium red clover.

Fritsche said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded the program with $570,000 in 2019. She said the USDA has given about $3 million to the program over its six-year history.

“The cover crop program is a nice partnership between the counties, the USDA-NRCS, and the private sector,” said Fritsche. “We get more done when we work together, and this is a prime example.”

Fritsche said interested producers may need to start thinking about next year already. Producers can sign up anytime, but the next anticipated deadline will be in the early fall of 2019.

Interested farmers can also contact their local NRCS offices in Crawford or Grant counties. The office phone number for Karyl Fritsche is (608) 326-7179 ext. 109. Her email is Karyl.Fritsche@wi.usda.gov. Joe Schmelz of the Grant County NRCS office can be reached at (608) 723-6377 ext. 130 or at joe.schmelz@usda.gov.

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