Cover Cropping at the Farm Progress Show

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Illinois Stewardship Alliance was at the Farm Progress Show in August, a first for ISA. This huge event draws thousands visitors from all over the world, primarily to gather around all the new technology in farming.

ISA partnered with the American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) to promote a rediscovered technology in agriculture – cover crops.

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While farm progress is often defined by the biggest and best new “big iron” out there, new seed hybrids and new GPS technology, ISA feels it can also be defined by becoming more sustainable and resilient through new conservation practices and better management. ISA isn’t the only one who thinks that, which is why this year the Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts invited ISA to cohost a table in the “Partners in Conservation Tent.”

ISA and its partners recruited 7 farmers to come help at the table, because the best way to learn about cover cropping is to talk to another farmer who’s done it. The farmer experts run a variety of operations, from a fully organic Community Supported Agriculture operation to a 1,000 acre corn-bean rotation, and have a fantastic wealth of knowledge about many aspects of cover cropping.

Mike Baise, of AFT, Sarah Carlson, of PFI and Jen Filipiak. Of ISA, stood outside the tent and encouraged folks to stop in and talk to shop with fellow farmers.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Jen Filipiak said. “We found that out of the farmers we talked to who were just passing by the tent, about half were either already using cover crops, or were thinking about it. And everyone had at least heard of cover crops, so the word is out.”

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The farmer experts in the tent were talking cover crops for their entire time at the ISA booth, if not with farmers stopping in, then with each other, providing a learning experience all around. And of course every Illinois farmer got a cover crop business directory from ISA. ISA was able to give away about 1,000 of them. Several farmers said they were sent over for the directory by other exhibitors.

In situations like the Farm Progress Show, farmers talking to farmers is key, and farmers wanting to try cover crops wanted to hear the obstacles other farmers faced and how they overcame them, not about all the benefits of the practice.

Staffing an event like this is hard work, and is much easier with a core group of dedicated staff. You really need to “work the room” to be effective and Sarah, Mike and Jen were rarely behind the tables. And the three days of 100+ degree heat index didn’t make it any easier.

ISA would like to thank the farmers who donated their time. They are Dave Bishop, of Logan County, Marcus Maier, of Livingston County, Mark Peterson, of Iowa, Joe Rothermel, of Champaign County, Gary Seibert, of Indiana, Dan Steidinger, of Livingston County, and Tom Yucus, of Lee County.