SE Georgia Farm Sharing Benefits of Winter Cover Crops
SCREVEN, Ga. – For five decades, Greenview Farms in Screven, Ga., has been rotating cattle on winter cover crops and seeing the benefits of providing a desirable market product while supporting a sustainable agricultural environment.
“My philosophy toward farming and conservation is simple,” said farm owner and operator Jonny Harris. “Leave it better than you found it. What has been established on this farm from a sustainable and conservation standpoint I give credit to those who came before me. Now it’s my watch.”
Harris has received a $9,997 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Producer Grant to determine the management practices necessary to produce a winter cover crop. In addition, the proposals calls for collecting data on soil organic matter, nitrogen and water holding capacity relative to a control where no cover crop was planted; and comparing growth rate, yields and quality among the various cover crops being grown. Harris plans to share his findings with fellow farmers by creating linkages between crop producers interested in cover crops and livestock producers needing high-quality forage.
“I’m really pleased with receiving the Southern SARE grant because I think that it will address a lot of issues that producers are facing in this area of Georgia,” said Harris.
The sixth generation family farm, in existence since around 1860, is comprised of 2,800 acres, spread evenly among timberland, pasture and cultivated crops (corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and summer annuals). The family has been overseeding winter cover crops (rye, oats and clover) into pasture since the 1950s to support their popular Hereford and Braford cattle breeds.
“We were practicing rotational grazing and overseeding pastures in no-till long before the Cooperative Extension Service began recommending it,” said Harris. “We quickly discovered that we utilized the land better and could harvest the crops for additional revenue.”
Now Harris is strip-tilling winter cover crops (ryegrass, crimson clover and triticale) into his row crop production system.
“With the grant, I’m hoping to find that cover crops, both in a pasture and cultivated crop setting, improve the soil, provide additional revenue for crop producers, make it easier to plant into a summer row crop, and provide an additional feed source for dairy producers,” said Harris.
Mark Frye, a University of Georgia Extension agent for Wayne County, has been working closely with Harris for several years, and said that growing winter cover crops in southeast Georgia is uncommon.
“There is just really no data in southeast Georgia on winter cover crops neither showing their environmental benefits nor showing any means of marketing them,” said Frye. “The trials may help open doors of opportunities for farmers who are reluctant to try winter cover crops or are simply not familiar enough with them to understand that they do have some benefits.”
In the trials, Harris plans to plant 45-acre fields of annual ryegrass, triticale, and ryegrass-crimson clover and triticale-crimson clover mixes to determine which cover crop package provides the most environmental benefits and economic advantages.
“From our experiences we know that winter cover crops that are harvested as a forage crop can accomplish several goals of sustainable agriculture,” said Harris. “Now we want to pass on what we have learned to area farmers with some measurable data that also helps them to implement such sustainable ag practices on their farms.”
The two-year project, “Demonstrating the Potential for Triticale and Annual Ryegrass as Both an Alternative Winter Crop and a Soil Organic Matter-Building Practice” (FS11-253), is a continuation of winter cover crop trials that Harris is conducting and is already seeing promising results.
Other project cooperators include dairy farmer Pete Wright; Rita Barrow, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist; Dennis Hancock, UGA state forage Extension agronomist; Curt Lacy, UGA Extension livestock economist; and Pennington Seed.
Southern SARE Producer Grants, one of the organization’s seven grant opportunities, allow farmers and ranchers to explore sustainable agriculture production research projects. The program not only helps them solve on-farm problems, but also allows them to share their results with fellow farmers and ranchers who face similar issues.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.