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New project will study cover crops, soil health in northeast North Dakota

Soil health is drawing growing attention from Upper Midwest farmers, and a newly funded project seeks to help farmers in northeast North Dakota promote soil health through cover crops. The "How Far North Can We Grow: 49th Parallel Cover Crop Proj...

 

 

Soil health is drawing growing attention from Upper Midwest farmers, and a newly funded project seeks to help farmers in northeast North Dakota promote soil health through cover crops.

The “How Far North Can We Grow: 49th Parallel Cover Crop Project” is led by the Northern Plains Resource Conservation and Development Council, based in Devils Lake, N.D.

Farmers who want to participate in the four-year program can sign up this spring.

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Cover crops are grown primarily to improve soil health, not for harvest and sale.

The project aims to improve soil health practices in the relatively cool, wet and short-season climate in Pembina, Cavalier, Towner, Pierce, Benson, Ramsey, Nelson and Walsh counties. New techniques will be evaluated by ag producers in partnership with Soil Conservation Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, North Dakota State University county extension staff and NDSU soil health team personnel.

A number of small-scale cover crop projects have been undertaken in those eight counties, but the projects, though useful, haven’t been coordinated and provide limited information, says Paul Overby, a Wolford, N.D., farmer and businessman and president of the Northern Plains Resource Conservation and Development Council.

“The idea (of the 49th Parallel project) is to get enough counties and enough producers scattered across the whole area so that we can start drawing some meaningful information,” he says.

Some farmers with cover crop experience will sign up for the program, which is good, Overby says.

But producers without such experience are the project’s main target, he says.

NRCS a key player

The project recently received $700,000 in funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which focuses on public-private partnerships involving private companies, local communities and other nongovernment organizations.

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The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an arm of USDA that provides farmers and ranchers with technical and financial assistance for conservation, plays a key role in RCPP, Overby says.

“We are incredibly grateful to NRCS on both the state and national level for selecting this project as part of the launch of RCPP,” Overby says. “Because of the need for a partnership approach to conservation issues, I think RCPP will provide taxpayers with a good return on their dollar.”

RCPP projects are “led locally and demonstrate the value of strong public-private partnerships that deliver solutions to tough natural resource challenges,” says Mary Podoll, NRCS’s North Dakota state conservationist.

The Devils Lake-based council is involved in efforts to develop a similar project in Manitoba, Overby says.

Though the project is geared for northeast North Dakota, it should produce information that will be helpful to farmers elsewhere in northern North Dakota and northern Minnesota and Montana, too, he says.

Northeast North Dakota farmers interested in the 49th Parallel project should contact their local Soil Conservation District or NRCS office, Overby says.

Related Topics: SOIL HEALTHAGRICULTURECROPS
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