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01. Dr. Maria Bowman, Wheat Cover Crops

Cover crops, Wheat

In the first episode of The People of Soil Health podcast, we sat down with Dr. Maria Bowman, the Lead Scientist at the Soil Health Partnership, to discuss her findings as she analyzes the data gathered on cover crops.

Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Maria learned about farming, the contributions that farmers give to the rural economy, and the passion they had for their land. Her soil health passion stemmed from the connection of water quality and the soil. As she learned more about the roles farmers and land stewardship played in improving water quality, she became more interested in soil health.

In this episode, John Mesko and Maria discuss how SHP is measuring the economic benefits of cover crops to identify immediate changes and long term improvements.

“In order to make cover crops a more widespread practice to adopt, they need to be economically feasible for the farmer. By measuring these other impacts, whether they be economic or environmental outcomes, we are working to make sure we are capturing the whole picture,” said Maria.

John and Maria discuss an SHP business case involving Indiana farmer Mike Buis, an SHP farmer, who adopted cover crops on several fields, including his SHP research field. With the added weed control seen in the SHP plot, Mike started expanding his cover crop usage. Due to his location in highly erodible land, it was a priority to have a cost-effective product while also retaining his topsoil. In terms of his trial, Mike saw a higher organic matter in his cover crop strips than on his control strips. Profitability came in the form of weed control as a result of the added residue giving him added ground cover. This saved on average about ten dollars an acre in reduced herbicide use.

The pair also talks about the new SHP field check protocol, where SHP Field Managers try to quantify the weed and pest pressure advantages seen when using cover crops. Field Managers will measure points throughout the year to help brainstorm new ways to improve sustainability techniques, making them more feasible for farmers. This will help quantify the results we have been seeing with these practices.

SHP publishes business cases to help convey that soil health practices are feasible and showcase measurable benefits. Visit our collection of business cases.