The University of California Cooperative Extension hosted a drive-by field visit for cover crop demonstration plots in Colusa last week.
Sarah Light, agronomy farm adviser for the UCCE Sutter-Yuba, said the project is part of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils program.
“Cover crops are crops that you plant that are basically for the soil, they’re not to harvest,” Light said.
Light said cover crop benefits can include increasing the soil’s organic matter, providing food for pollinators, giving growers a competitive advantage over weeds, reducing soil erosion and compaction, helping water dynamics and more.
She said soil has a number of different jobs, such as to grow food, move water, provide habitat and more.
“Soil health by definition is the continued capacity of the soil to function,” Light said. “...The benefits of cover cropping are we’re increasing that capacity.”
She said growers that are cover cropping have reported better water movement and soil workability. She said it could also mean irrigating and managing weeds less frequently.
“I’m particularly interested in evaluating the soil health and agronomic benefits of cover cropping … like breaking up soil compaction, competing with weeds and soil-water dynamics,” Light said. “...In terms of soil health, one of the main reasons to be concerned is when we really degrade the health of our soil, the land can become unfarmable.”
She said part of the goal of the project is to see how different cover crop varieties grow and how they work in the region.
“Cover cropping is not used as widely in California (as it is in other areas), so it’s important to understand how they look and grow in our climate,” Light said.
She said the drive-by field visit, which was open to the public, showcased different cover crop varieties and mixes that were planted.
“I’m trying to demonstrate how this practice works in our region so growers can make the decisions for themselves,” Light said.
She said the drive-by field visit was at a site in Colusa and the plots will be out for another couple of weeks so people can go by if they were unable to attend the event on Tuesday.
When coming from Colusa, follow Bridge Street across the river, which turns into River Road, and the field is on the right side of the street 0.8 miles up River Road from the intersection of River Road and Butte Slough Road.
The site is in its first year of a three-year project, Light said.
For more information, visit Light’s page on the UCCE website at https://bit.ly/3mme7Q4.