Researchers and Educators Collaborate to Teach Youth about Cover Crops

December 20, 2012

Across the region, farmers are planting cover crops, a method of revitalizing soil, curbing erosion, and managing pests. Steve Sutera, an Extension educator at South Dakota State University (SDSU), saw an opportunity to bring together Bon Homme County’s Extension service, FFA Chapter, 4-H Club, and ongoing research at SDSU.

In 2008, Sutera submitted a proposal and was awarded a $2,000 grant from the NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant Program to educate students about cover crops, both in the field and in the classroom.

“The Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU encourages Extension Educators to get youth involved in our research projects,” explained Sutera. “I felt this was an excellent opportunity to involve, educate, and empower local youth to assist with this sustainable agriculture project. It provided an opportunity for youth to take on leadership and responsibility roles. Also, the work they accomplished could be reported in their FFA or 4-H project work.”

Gary Kriz, a local farmer who was producing winter wheat, helped Sutera and area youth prepare 1½ acres for their test plots. Starting in July, with assistance from a technician from the SDSU Plant Science Department, Sutera and a dozen students staked out the plots, planted 10 different crops with 12 repetitions throughout, and put up signs and markers. Crops included oats, barley, triticale, cowpeas, soybeans, turnips, radishes and millets. The students labeled the harvest bags and did all the harvesting. Over the course of three fall harvests, they submitted close to 40 samples to SDSU to be weighed, dried, and analyzed for feed quality. In addition to the hands-on field work, Sutera provided 2½ hours of classroom instruction for 24 Bon Homme High School students. Several of the students who had assisted with the plot shared information and observations.

“The teamwork and cooperation from the FFA students and 4-H members was outstanding,” said Sutera. “Doing a hands-on project such as the research plot was really a great way for them to connect and understand the whole concept of how cover crops can help us sustain and improve our environment and our land as a resource.”

Sutera sent the samples to SDSU to be evaluated for feed quality based on total dry matter production, crude protein content, acid detergent fiber content, and neutral detergent fiber content. The data from the samples gathered by these students will contribute to an ongoing, multi-state, USDA Special Grant project called “Five States Ruminant Consortium.” This ongoing $563,000 special grant is supporting research and Extension faculty and stakeholder cooperators who are examining opportunities within the ruminant livestock industry for economic development in western South Dakota, southwestern North Dakota, southeastern Montana, eastern Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska.

“The incorporation of cover crops into our farming practices is a concept that will take time to implement,” said Sutera. “The information and data from this research Researchers and Educators Collaborate to Teach Youth about Cover Crops project will be used to help producers make good decisions when they select the cover crops and mixes that will benefit them, primarily for grazing alternatives. By providing our youth with a positive educational hands-on experience, they can now assist us in promoting cover crops as a part of the sustainable agriculture efforts in our area.”

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Topics: Cover Crops, Education and Training
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, West