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Apr 10

PIERCE CONSERVATION DISTRICT’S COVER CROP INITIATIVE

Posted on April 10, 2020 at 3:13 PM by Allan Warren

Cover crop trial workshop
Through a grant from the Department of Ecology and support from the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, we have partnered with WSU to conduct field trials of cover crops and the use of our new Direct Seed-Drill. 163 local farmers have attended these workshops to learn more about how these practices can improve both soil health and local water quality.

Traditional tilling practices and lack of cover crops in Pierce County have created a situation where stormwater carries soil off of farmland and into surface water. The loss of topsoil from the farmland reduces soil quality and farm productivity. The soil runoff into streams also impacts water quality and results in decreased salmon survival rates. Reducing tillage through direct seeding improves soil quality, controls weeds, increases soil carbon, and reduces fuel usage. Cover crop practices can provide a weed suppressing mulch, add organic matter to the soil, and increase soil fertility. Taken together, these practices result in lower costs and better productivity for farmers, while also creating better conditions for endangered salmon, a multi-benefit approach we’re working to implement across the county.

All of these reasons are why in 2018, Pierce Conservation District (PCD) embarked on a cover crop initiative using a multi-pronged approach. That year, a Crop Farm Program Manager was hired to lead the initiative. With funding provided by the Agriculture Community of Interest (AgCOI), which is part of the Russell Family Foundation’s Puyallup Watershed Initiative, a direct seed drill and flail mower were purchased to loan to farmers in lieu of them purchasing their own equipment. Cover crop seed varieties and planting methods were tested through trials led by researchers at WSU Puyallup- Research and Extension (WSU Puyallup) in collaboration with PCD and local farmers willing to provide land. Funding was obtained through a WA State Department of Ecology Centennial Clean Water Fund Grant to provide cost sharing financial assistance to farmers willing to try direct drill seeding and cover cop installation. That grant also funded the drill borrower’s instruction video, a forthcoming cover crop promotional video, and producer educational workshops.

cover crop trialsIn 2019 we expanded those efforts through additional cover crop trials with WSU Puyallup, continuation of cover crop and direct drill seeding financial assistance to producers, leading to 25 number of farmers implementing the practice over 371 acres. Also, in partnership with WSU Puyallup, we created the annual Cover Crop Round Table. The Round Table’s goals have been to network with regional growers and researchers, share information on local cover crop successes, and coordinate research interests and needs. The Round Table was well attended by both Pierce County farmers and by producers from around the region. A second annual event is already scheduled for early 2020 and we’re excited to see this initiative continue to grow.