By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP (Aug. 1, 2017) — Hoping to expand the use of cover crops on land above the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer in Burlington and Camden counties, the Burlington County Soil Conservation District is offering farmers a “free sample” to plant and see results first hand.
This Agricultural Soil Health Initiative comes out of a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funded by the William Penn Foundation intended to attract farmers who haven’t participated in soil health programs to give cover crops a try on a small field or part of a field.
The project began last year, attracting two farmers and Robert Reitmeyer, Burlington County SCD manager, said he’s hopeful to get more farmers interested this year to use the remaining grant funding before the end of the year.
“My goal is to spread the remaining $30,000 to as many farmers as I can,” Reitmeyer said.
The funding pays 100 percent of the cost to plant either single or multi-species cover crops on an agreed upon acreage for one season.
Following that season, the grower can continue getting assistance with cover crop planting by applying for funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program in USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service for between three and five years.
That program pays an established flat rate to go toward planting costs. If the actual cost exceeds the rate, the farmer is responsible for the difference.
Reitmeyer said there’s no obligation to participate in the EQIP program if you participate in the Burlington/Camden soil health initiative.
Larry Roohr of Windrush Farm in Southampton was one of the participants last year, aerially seeding 48 acres with a five-way mix using rye, cereal rye, crimson clover, red clover and radish into a standing soybean crop.
Pleased with the results of his free sample, Roohr signed up for three years through EQIP to continue cover crops, only this year he said he’s switching the radishes out for canola.
“The multi-species is what I liked. That worked out really well. I’ve been farming long enough to see it’s working,” Roohr said. “It’s cheap soil health is what it is.”
Roohr added that cover crops are catching on in the area — especially on vegetable farms — to improve the soil.
While his cover crop was growing, he said a few farmers stopped by to see it’s progress.
“I’ve had some questions about it,” Roohr said. “They’ve come and talked to me but the big thing I told them is every farm is different.”
Roohr worked with NRCS technicians to choose the mix and seeding rate for his farm.
“Ideally we like to have a mix of three: a brassica, a legume and a grass,” said Nicole Ciccaglione, NRCS district conservationist for Burlington, Camden and Ocean counties.
With a mix, each component is used to address a different issue; brassicas like radishes are used for compaction issues, legumes fix nitrogen in the soil and grasses can add nutrients and help reduce erosion.
“It really does depend on what the concern is for the farm and the farmer,” Ciccaglione added.
“I need a few more Larrys; people that are interested in soil health and what to do about it,” Reitmeyer said.
Reitmeyer added interested farmers should contact him at 609-267-7410 or email@example.com by the end of August to allow time for planning.