Tom Cotter talks about a trench dug into one of his cover crop fields

Austin Farmer Tom Cotter talks about a trench dug into one of his cover crop fields in May 2017 during a Field Day organized by Mower SWCD under a Cover Crop Champion grant.

AUSTIN, Minn. – Oct. 31, 2018 – Eight farmers in Mower County will have fields showcased next week as part of a free bus tour to highlight the use of cover crops and other soil-health practices.

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District is offering on Wednesday, Nov. 7, a Cover Crop & Soil Health Field Day that will start and end at Riverland Community College’s west campus in Austin. The tour run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., starting inside Riverland’s west campus building. Attendees should enter the west campus from Eighth Avenue Northwest; park on the building’s north side near the KSMQ-TV tower; and use the building’s north entrance.

Participation in the Field Day is free – bus transportation and lunch also will be provided at no charge. Those interested are asked to RSVP no later than Monday, Nov. 5, to ensure a bus seat and lunch for the tour. Busing will be limited to one bus of about 50 passengers. To RSVP, call Mower SWCD at 507-434-2603, ext. 5, or send an email to tim.ruzek@mowerswcd.org.

Several types of farming operations will be featured on the tour, including cash crop farms and beef operations.

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services’ Operation Round-Up program provided a grant to cover busing costs. Other event sponsors include Cedar River Watershed District; Northern Country Co-op; and Saddle Butte seed company.

Starting the tour inside, Dan Hoffman, interim director of Riverland’s Center of Agricultural & Food Science Technology, will welcome attendees before Jeff Irwin of Northern Country Coop presents on a Sustainable Answer Acre project that the cooperative is working on with Mower SWCD near the village of Lansing.

The tour then will leave Riverland about 9:30 a.m. to head out to nine Mower County farm field sites, including field walkovers and some viewed while driving by. Some of the soil-health practices to be showcased include cover crops planted after sweet corn harvest; cover inter-seeding into corn and soybeans; multispecies cover crop mix to be winter grazed by beef cattle; four-year strip till corn/soybean rotation with multispecies cover crop mix.

“This is a great opportunity for people of all backgrounds to get more familiar with cover crops and other soil-health practices,” said Steve Lawler, Mower SWCD’s resource specialist and soil scientist. “Just in the past year, we have seen more producers incorporating cover crops and reduced tillage in our area.”

In 2018, Lawler led the first of a three-year research project on several dozen plots on Mower County farms to study cover crops and reduced tillage. The project aims to provide farmers with better soil-health data to support their operations and practices that benefit the environment. The project is supported by a $98,000 grant Mower SWCD requested from The Hormel Foundation for the research.

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.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) 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; and helping to safeguard personal health.

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.