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PhotoStory: Cover Crops

Cover Crops for Pest Management and Soil Health

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Back in June 2015, UF/IFAS Extension organized a “Discover the Cover” Workshop. The workshop showecased the experiences with cover crops at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center in Live Oak, and at the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm.


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Sunnhemp is a summer cover crop well adapted to Florida conditions. Because it is planted during the summer, the plants will develop limited number of seeds, due that bee population declines in this season. This crop is very effective for nematode control. Crude protein content in the leaves is 22%, in the plant 18%, and after flowering Nitrogen content is 8%.


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Trying out the brand new crop roller. Dr. Treadwell from UF/IFAS explained that for killing a stand of sunnhemp, the trick for a good kill is to make sure that the stem can break easily around the base of the plant.


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A row of sunflower can be used as a trap crop. These rows should be placed between your marketable crops and the pests’ overwintering sites (usually forests). Varieties recommended are “Giganteus”, “Titan” and “Mammoth”. Next to the row of trap crops, they have planted strips of buckwheat to provide habitat for beneficial organisms and pollinators. This combination of plants, along with the other measures of whole farm IPM, provide a comprehensive management approach to pests, rather than relying on a silver bullet.


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According to Bob Hochmuth from UF/IFAS, due to this system of cover crops, the farm has not had to apply insecticides to manage the marketable crops for more than 2 years. Some pesticides have been used but only as spot spraying on the trap crops.


Another important recommendation from the experiences at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center is that these cover crops should be managed diligently. These crops should be provided with irrigation and some fertilizer. This is needed because whenever the plants are in distress due to drought or other reason, their nectar is no longer effective at maintaining good populations of beneficial insects and pollinators.


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The Rooney’s Front Porch Farm has 6 acres different varieties of rabbiteye blueberries, and some hundred plants of thorness blackberries. Their primary market is U-Pick, but also market some of their produce to local area restaurants. In addition to berries, they are also working with grass fed “hair sheep.” For more information, visit http://rooneyfarm.com/


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Farmers Scott and Billie Rooney have been experimenting with the use of cover crop and wildflower strips. Among the cover crops used are buckwheat, sunflowers and triticale. The farm also uses sunnhemp for small ruminant grazing. The impact of the cover crops and permanent wildflower strips has been the reduction of green stink bugs.


At the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, they plant strips of buckwheat about every six weeks. This is done to make sure that nectar is always available. After harvest, and during winter, they don’t see the need to continue planting cover crops, until the next season starts. Additionally, the strips have provided plenty of natural, native pollinators. They have not had the need to bring in additional honey bees to help pollinate the crop.


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At the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, they have placed educational signs about their Integrated Pest Management work.


120                                                                              That’s it folks!


For more information on whole farm approach and trap cropping, check this article from Bob Hochmuth of UF/IFAS. http://hos.ufl.edu/newsletters/vegetarian/issue-no-584

For cover crop information in Florida check out these publications by Dr. Treadwell: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs389 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs390

Pictures by Chelsea Slater and content by Jose Perez

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