By Merna Emara
Callum Morrison, a second year PhD student at the University of Manitoba is conducting a survey on Ontario farmers in order to study the effects of those who use cover crops and those who do not.
A cover crop is a crop that is grown to provide soil cover during times when the soil would otherwise be left bare. Cover crops are not harvested. The intention of planting them is to save the soil from erosion and maintain or grow soil nutrients during the offseason.
“Cover crops are quite often grown in the fall to provide cover after your cash crop is harvested,” Morrison said. “So for example, you might plant some clover to keep the soil covered and the cover crop will either die during the winter or will survive until spring. Then, it will be terminated through either herbicide or through tillage, or maybe grazing and then you can plant your next year’s crop.”
Morrison said the survey is to compare the effects of cover crops by seeing the difference in yield of the crash crop quality, but also the soil and its quality.
Morrison is looking to know how farmers are using cover crops, why are they using cover crops, what benefits they have seen, what problems they have had, what challenges limit cover crop use and how long it took them to see the benefits.
Morrison said full season cover crops are a lot more prominent in the prairies than they are in southern Ontario. These are cover crops that are grown over the entirety of the growing season and are usually grown to improve soil health. They are also quite favoured by organic farmers who are going to use cover crops to graze, Morrison added.
So far, Morrison has had 350 survey respondents, but he is trying to include farmers from every region, including farmers from the Rainy River District and Thunder Bay.
Morrison said responding to the survey will also increase the accuracy of the report that he will create in order to help farmers.
“They will be able to see what are the most common problems to look out for, how long they could expect to see benefits and it gives them a direct way to influence future research by letting us know what they think is important and affecting future policy,” Morrison said. “It allows potentially governments and other people involved in agriculture to see that if they want to incentivize cover crop use.”
Morrison said this survey is for any type of farmer, no matter the size, or whether they use cover crops or not.
The survey will be available to complete until late March. It is conducted through Survey Monkey and can be accessed using this link https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/OntarioCoverCrop.