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UW Organic Agriculture Field Day to focus on reducing tillage and intensifying cover crops

As farmers become increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining and improving soil health, they are seeking more options to integrate cover crops and perennials into their rotations. Luckily, through farmer-research-industry partnerships, new options are becoming available to farmers with the development of new tools and crop varieties.

Showcasing these options will be a highlight of this year’s UW Organic Agriculture Field Day, set for 1–4 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23 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 organic rotations can provide new windows to include cover crops into cash crop production. These cover crops can help add diversity, build organic matter, reduce erosion and control weeds.

“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 equipment options and new crop varieties open up new possibilities that did not exist even just a couple of years ago.”

The event will feature presentations on research investigating the use of different equipment to terminate cover crops — including new roller-crimper technology — and modifications of existing equipment to make planting in high-residue situations more effective.

“The development of new equipment to allow farmers more options and reduce risk with cover crop-intensive strategies could be a game-changer,” says Silva. “While there still remains the need for more research on working organic farms, new tools are allowing both researchers and farmers to more effectively deal with the high residue often resulting from cover crops, as well as planting options for cover crops into standing cash crops.”

Researchers will also give updates on organic no-till soybeans using a variety of cover crops and planting dates, and Kernza (perennial wheat). There will also be a listening session at the end of the day where farmers can give input on research priorities.

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 for organic grain outpacing domestic supply, so the need remains for more organic grain farmers and more organic acres,” says Silva, who notes organic sales reached $43 billion in the U.S. in 2017. “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-positioned to continue to help meet this expanding market opportunity.”

The registration table at the UW Organic Agriculture Field Day will open at 12:45 p.m. on Aug. 23. 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. 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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