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UW Organic Agriculture Field Day to focus on cover crops and soil health – Aug. 31

In a growing season that has brought both too much and too little rain across the North Central region, farmers are increasingly looking for ways to increase the resilience of their soils. One option is to adopt some of the production practices that organic farmers use to help improve their soils such as cover cropping and building soil organic matter, which can help mitigate the effects of weather extremes.

Production practices to build soil resilience will be a key focus of this year’s UW Organic Agriculture Field Day, set for 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Arlington Agricultural Research Station.

Research at the station shows that integrating cover crops into the corn and soybean phases of rotations can help farmers build soil organic matter, while reducing the need for tillage. During years like 2017, when five-inch rainfall events have occurred multiple times in certain areas of the state, these cover crops can help keep soil in place and improve water infiltration in fields.

“We’ve been researching cover crop-based organic no-till at the Arlington station since 2008, but we’re increasingly trying new approaches to expand options for organic farmers,” says event organizer Erin Silva, UW-Madison assistant professor of plant pathology and UW-Extension organic production systems specialist. “New options include interseeding into standing corn and soybean, as well as integrating some high-biomass producing options after cereal grains.”

The event will feature presentations on research linking various crop production practices—including cover cropping—to specific soil health indicators.

“Soil quality has always been a foundation of organic agriculture, and we are learning more and more about how to better assess and optimize the health of our soils,” says Silva. “While there still remains much to understand, new tools are allowing both researchers and farmers to track the biological, physical and chemical aspects of their soils to provide a more holistic view of the progress they are making in improving their land.”

Researchers will also give updates on organic soil quality from the long-term Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial; organic no-till corn and soybeans using a variety of cover crop and planting options; organic wheat breeding efforts; and Kernza (perennial wheat).

All of the research projects featured during the field day are being conducted at Arlington station, which has more than 70 acres of certified organic land, or on working organic farms with input from organic producers.

“The organic market continues to grow, with demand outpacing domestic supply, so the need remains for more organic farmers and more organic acres,” says Silva, who notes organic sales reached $43 billion in the U.S. in 2016. “Wisconsin, with the second highest number of organic farms in the nation, as well as a wealth of organic knowledge, expertise and infrastructure, is well-position to continue to help meet this expanding market opportunity.”

The registration table at the UW Organic Agriculture Field Day will open at 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 31. A lunch will be available around noon for $10 per person. RSVPs are requested but not required. RSVPs and questions can be directed to Erin Silva at emsilva@wisc.edu or 608-890-1503.

The address for Arlington Agricultural Research Station is N695 Hopkins Road, Arlington, Wisconsin. The station is located just off Highway 51, about five miles south of Arlington and 15 miles north of Madison. A map is available at http://arlington.ars.wisc.edu/facility/.

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