Farmers can reduce extreme weather impacts, say extension educators

Farmers can’t change the weather, but two management practices can help buffer the effects of heavy rains, drought and other weather extremes, according to new guides from a team of extension educators at University of Wyoming, University of Nebraska and Montana State University.

“Minimizing Extreme Weather Impacts: Cover Crops 101” and “Using No-Till to Minimize Extreme Weather Impacts” are available free from UW Extension at bit.ly/UWEpubs.

Planting cover crops in rotation with primary agricultural crops can support soil quality and fertility, increase water infiltration and reduces erosion. A cover crop can be a single species crop or a mixed-species crop, such as legumes, grasses and brassicas (mustard family).

Other benefits may include reducing soil compaction, suppressing weeds, improving soil microorganism populations and providing habitat and food sources for birds, mammals and beneficial insects.

“Cover crops should be customized to the individual operation and objectives,” said Jerimiah Vardiman, lead author from UW Extension. He noted the potential for no benefits or even negative impacts, such as reduction in soil nitrogen, if cover crops are not managed correctly.

No-till farming is not new but is not widely used, said Tyler Williams of University of Nebraska Extension.

With a no-till approach, crops are grown with minimal soil disturbance, and the soil is kept covered with crop residue to conserve soil and water.

Advantages are soil moisture conservation, erosion control, reduced fuel and labor costs and benefits to soil structure and health. Disadvantages are increased dependence on herbicides, no incorporation of residue, manure or fertilizer and slow soil warming on poorly drained soils.

For more information, contact Vardiman at 307-754-8836 or jvardima@uwyo.edu.

These short introductions to field management systems are among the many guides, free courses and videos from UW Extension that help extend skills in cropping, small acreage management, irrigation, wildlife habitat and more. YouTube video series from UW Extension include “Barnyards and Backyards,” “From the Ground Up” and “Exploring the Nature of Wyoming.”