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Cover crops, soil health focus of Field Day on May 26

Three area farms that use cover crops will be part of a free bus tour May 26 offered by Mower Soil & Water Conservation District through a grant promoting the importance of soil health.

Mower County farmers Tom Cotter, Tom Finnegan and Terry and Cindy Hamilton each will host registered participants on the first Mower Cover Crop Champion/Soil Health Team Tour, covering topics that include harvesting and grazing cover crops; no-till and strip-till planting into terminated cover crops; and herbicide options for conventional corn and soybeans.

“This is a great opportunity to see and hear about cover crops from farmers who are very involved with them,” said Steve Lawler, Mower SWCD’s resource specialist and soil scientist. “There are many benefits to farming, the environment and wildlife that come from cover crops.”

Registration is required for the free Field Day tour that will provide busing and a boxed lunch. Those interested need to RSVP by May 22 to Mower SWCD by either calling 507-434-2603 or sending an email to tim.ruzek@mowerswcd.org

Cover cropping involves planting a second, unharvested crop in coordination with regular cash crops, such as corn and soybeans. Interest is growing in cover crops throughout Minnesota, and Mower County is helping to highlight their benefits when incorporated into agricultural practices, according to SWCD officials.

Registered participants should arrive about 9 a.m. in the Riverland Community College’s east campus parking lot in Austin along 14th Street Northwest.

Attendees will board a school bus about 9:30 a.m. to travel to the farms of Tom Finnegan (Red Rock Township); Terry and Cindy Hamilton (Marshall Township); and Tom Cotter (Austin Township). Each site will have one hour to showcase its use of cover crops in the field and — at the Cotter and Finnegan farms — how they help with producing beef cattle.

After the Cotter farm, the bus will depart about 1:45 p.m. to head back to Riverland.

The Field Day event is part of an $8,740 grant awarded to the Mower SWCD by the National Wildlife Federation, which named Lawler of Mower SWCD as a Cover Crop Champion for outreach. The grant also named Cotter and Finnegan as Cover Crop Champion farmers. The duo has kept a busy schedule the past few months giving presentations on cover crops to farmers and non-farmer groups throughout the region.

Lawler, who also will be a presenter at the Field Day tour, has worked closely with Cotter, Finnegan and the Hamiltons since the Mower Soil Health Team formed in early 2016. Formed as part of Mower SWCD’s new soil health initiative, the Mower Soil Health Team consists of producers and agricultural professionals who farm and work in Mower County. Members have working knowledge of cover cropping and reduced tillage systems and are committed to providing one-on-one outreach to other area producers seeking to learn more about those and other management practices.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program says cover crops offer economic and ecological benefits:

•Reducing fertilizer costs.

•Improving crop yields by enhancing soil health.

•Reducing the need for herbicides and pesticides.

•Preventing soil erosion.

•Conserving soil moisture.

•Protecting water quality.

•Helping to safeguard personal health.

For more information, join the Mower County Soil Health Group’s Facebook page (just search for that specific name) or visit Mower SWCD’s Cover Crop Champion grant webpage – www.mowerswcd.org/CoverCropChampion2017.html.

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District: Since 1953, Mower SWCD has provided land and conservation services to Mower County landowners to help manage lands in a way that promotes a sound economy as well as sustains and enhances natural resources that are key to the state’s environmental health. Mower SWCD is one of Minnesota’s 91 SWCDs each are governed by an elected board.