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Sunday, July 14, 2024

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VA law prevents utility shutoffs in extreme circumstances; MI construction industry responds to a high number of worker suicides; 500,000 still without power or water in the Houston area; KY experts: Children, and babies at higher risk for heat illness.

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The House passes the SAVE Act, but fails to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt of Congress, and a proposed federal budget could doom much-needed public services.

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Enticing remote workers to move is a new business strategy in rural America, Eastern Kentucky preservationists want to save the 20th century home of a trailblazing coal miner, and a rule change could help small meat and poultry growers and consumers.

Cover crops: A mighty force for land health, with room for growth

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Friday, June 14, 2024   

When Minnesota farmers watch their crops grow this summer, some will monitor land that has better soil health. It's because of a fairly popular conservation tool, and supporters are calling for more "real-time" data to measure progress.

Cover crops are plants grown between commodity crops to prevent soil erosion and nitrates from flowing into nearby waterways, harming water quality and natural resources. In recent years, Minnesota has emerged as one of the better-performing states for participation.

Jon Stevens has adopted the practice for his farm operation north of the Twin Cities.

"There's been years that we've just phenomenal corn yields while you're standing in 10 to 12 inches of beautiful oat grass," he said, "and we did it with reduced fertilizer inputs."

Stevens said that's good news for local creeks that connect with the St. Croix River.

The latest Census of Agriculture, released this year, showed a 17% increase in cover-crop acreage compared with 2017. The growth rate has slowed, however, and the report only comes out every five years. The National Wildlife Federation and other groups want to see a more consistent national effort to track participation, making it easier to guide assistance.

Federal programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture help cover expenses for farmers who agree to plant cover crops. Stevens said they have become more flexible, but he suggested certain types of messaging to convince those still on the fence.

"Sign up a five- or ten-acre parcel [of land] and get your cover crops perfected on that five or 10 acres," he said, "and then you can just step into full-scale."

Stevens indicated that approach might help avoid turning off farmers who run into obstacles after making big cover-crop investments. There's also research indicating this practice doesn't always translate to higher yields, but Stevens said that way of thinking needs some fine-tuning.

"We've been taught decades of 'maximize your yield,'" he said, "and it's like, 'Nope, that system doesn't work that way.' You're going to reduce tillage costs."

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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