By John O'Connell
A leading soil health expert (click here) addressed about 70 Caribou County, Idaho, growers regarding the importance of planting multi-species cover crops and maintaining a diversity of living roots in their soils.
Soda Springs, Idaho - While leading a tour of multi-species, dryland cover crop trials in a local farm field, soil health expert Keith Berns uprooted a stunted turnip from a strip in which other plant species were killed by a late-spring cold snap.
Then Berns moved to an adjacent trial plot — covered by a thick and diverse stand of green and flowering vegetation — and plucked a turnip with a softball’s circumference.
Bern’s, the keynote speaker at a July 20 soil health workshop attended by about 70 farmers and sponsored by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Caribou County, explained the demonstration highlights how diversity leads to healthier plants and more productive soil.
Farmers plant cover crops for soil health benefits such as improved water infiltration, nutrient scavenging, weed control, pollinator support, yield gains in subsequent cash crops, organic matter gains and reduced soil compaction. Berns considers it “heart breaking” when a farmer plants a single-species cover crop.
“It’s so difficult to get diversity with our cash crop, but it’s easy to get it with our cover crop,” said Berns, a Bladen, Neb., farmer who sells cover crop seed through Green Cover Seed....