The UMRR’s Board meetings have all the usual Board meeting stuff; minutes, treasurer’s reports, new business and all that. But they also feature a guest speaker that provides a focus on the area we are meeting in and what’s happening there to further the mission of the ILO. Local LWV League members and representatives from potential partner organizations are invited to attend this part of the meeting.
In June, Dr. Donald Wyse from U of M spoke on developments in cover crops based on his work at the University of Minnesota. Here’s the website for Forever Green, which has a full version of Dr. Wyse’s presentation.
Dr. Wyse is leading an initiative called Forever Green, which is working to identify and perfect cover crops to keep Minnesota’s farm fields covered to reduce erosion and loss of nutrients. Significant change to cropping practices is needed for Minnesota to meet proposed water quality goals. Dr. Wyse advocates that winter annual and perennial crops need to be integrated into Minnesota’s agricultural landscapes. Adding winter crops to the corn/soybean rotation ill bolster the rural and agricultural economy with high value, commercially marketable food, feed and fuel products. Dr. Wyse told us that a cropping system that includes cover crops can:
• Diversify economic opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers, through the production of new sources of food, feed, and high-value biomaterials, without interfering with current annual production systems.
• Provide ecosystem services such as clean water, healthy soil, pollinator forage and habitat.
• Enable abundant production despite climate variability and new pest and disease pressures.
• Enhance rural communities by creating new industries based on renewable agricultural resources and employment opportunities.
Cover crops and reduced tillage can help agricultural soils improve in health and tilth. Kristin Brennan, USDA Soil Health coordinator for Minnesota, brought a demonstration of how healthy soils work with water. Soil (don’t say “dirt”) is a living ecosystem rich in biodiversity. As the USDA’s soil health website says:
Soil health, also referred to as soil quality, is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This definition speaks to the importance of managing soils so they are sustainable for future generations. To do this, we need to remember that soil contains living organisms that when provided the basic necessities of life - food, shelter, and water - perform functions required to produce food and fiber.
Only "living" things can have health, so viewing soil as a living ecosystem reflects a fundamental shift in the way we care for our nation's soils. Soil isn’t an inert growing medium, but rather is teaming with billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that are the foundation of an elegant symbiotic ecosystem. Soil is an ecosystem that can be managed to provide nutrients for plant growth, absorb and hold rainwater for use during dryer periods, filter and buffer potential pollutants from leaving our fields, serve as a firm foundation for agricultural activities, and provide habitat for soil microbes to flourish and diversify to keep the ecosystem running smoothly.
Dr. Donald Wyse examines Kernza, or perennial wheat grass.
From Dr. Wyse’s presentation – brown areas are open soil which is subject to erosion and nutrient loss. These areas are open most of the year, with crops only actively covering them in June-October.
Kristin Brennan, left, oversees audience volunteers Mary Jo Truchon from LWV ABC in Anoka, Minnesota and Elizabeth Baker-Knutilla from LWV Park Rapids in poring water through test soils to compare water movement. Baker-Knutilla is also the Minnesota representative from to the UMRR Board.
The June meeting was held at the Mississippi River Watershed organization’s offices in Minneapolis. Members of several local Leagues joined the meeting for Dr. Wyse and Ms. Brennan. Also present were John Sisser, Ag Coordinator for the Izaak Walton League’s Midwest office and Bart Biernat, Water Coordinator for Anoka County, Minnesota. We had plenty of time for visiting and discussion after the talks, a great way to share ideas and build community