Cover crops being studied

Callum Morrison takes a reading of soil moisture content in one of his soybean crops in their long term cover cropping research experiment in Carman, MB. The moisture probe goes 1 meter into the soil and takes readings at six different depths all the way down to a meter.

Department of Plant Science PhD student at the University of Manitoba Callum Morrison has a keen interest in what farmers are doing on the prairies. 

He and his professor Dr. Yvonne Lawley are studying the use of cover crops on the prairies via the use of a quick five-minute survey. 

Morrison defines “Cover crops are crops grown at times when a cash crop is not grown e.g. in the fall, or over the whole season. The aim is to provide benefits to the soil, the environment, or improve the subsequent crop. An example would be following a cereal crop with fall rye in late August / September to protect the soil in the fall, build soil heath, scavenge excess nitrogen, and add organic carbon to the soil etc. It is very topical among farmers now and Manitoba. It is something to watch!”

The Prairie Cover Crop Survey they are conducting “is the first survey of its kind aimed at finding out information about the number of farmers using cover crops, as well as the distribution of cover crop farmers, the area grown, most popular cover crop species, and cover crop agronomy in the Prairies.”

Morrison notes the survey was created because there wasn’t a lot of information known about cover crops in Canada and just across the border, cover crops are more prevalent. Morrison says there are a couple of reasons for that.

“They have a little more of a flexible growing season, in Canada there’s less of a window,” explains Morrison in a phone interview. “In the United States, North Dakota specifically, they have figured out how it works. It is just taking a long time to get that thinking (in Canada)…the study is unbiased. I am really hoping it will benefit them.”

Morrison and Lawley already have some quality 2019 data from a total of 211 prairie farm operations but they are looking to add more this year. This year, they are also looking for those who do not grow a cover crop in 2020.

According to an official statement, they are “including farmers who did not grow a cover crop will allow us to gage any reservations farmers have about cover crops and what goals they may wish to achieve if they are thinking about growing them.”

“The study is observational and this time we are trying to focus on what can be done,” explains Morrison noting that the 2019 report is almost completed in its entirety and should be released in November. He doesn’t have a finite timeframe for when the 2020 data and analysis can be done but is eying February. “I am putting it in as fast as I can type it.”

Morrison says he has spent some time working in North Dakota and had seen how farmers there and elsewhere had benefitted. Both he and Lawley had seen anecdotally farmers who used cover crops in Canada but wanted to find out more on the five W’s: who, what, why, where, when and of course how. 

Morrison has been pleased with the response back so far. Because he is doing this on his own without being commissioned by any company to do this, there has been a lot of investigation and effort in trying to get as many participants as possible. 

He noted not a lot of money is needed to do this particular survey and is incorporating this with his own work which benefits him and of course agriculture as a whole. What is progresses into will be determined by the number of responses he gets and subsequently what he can determine.

“Growers associations have been fantastic,” explains Morrison. “Out of this get responses like ‘when we have questions who do they ask, see if they do they have questions; find out what they say; and find out what farmers want (to accomplish).”

“Sometimes I read them and they are absolutely amazing.”

He adds that the municipal governments have been solid as well getting the word out about the survey. Not a lot of  

What strikes Morrison is the diversity of the agriculture operations. Many mixed farms which are conducive for using cover crops and even has had some bison operations. 

Those who are interested should check out their website for more information.

Here is their website: https://sites.google.com/view/prairiecovercropsurvey/home and you can also check them out on Twitter at: @CallumMorrisons and professor @YvonneLawley_UM

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