Soil is meant to be covered, not exposed. That’s the basic premise of “cover crop coach” Steve Groff, a small Pennsylvania farmer who’s dedicated his life to promoting cover crops.
In 2015, Groff went digital with his messages and launched a weekly webinar series called Cover Crop Innovators. The webinar covers practical topics, with frequent expert guests and question-and-answer sessions.
“The trajectory of agriculture has already been set,” said Groff. “Food suppliers are already being mandated to source food from farms that operate with sustainable and environmentally safe practices. And that begins with successful cover cropping.
“Excelling in this field is no longer an option. It is essential for positioning yourself as an indispensable part of the agricultural supply chain.”
Groff said producers who know how to use cover crops effectively will reap the benefits of better soil, better crops and increase their sales potential.
“And all that has a tremendous impact on your bottom line. It makes your farm more profitable.”
During a phone interview, Groff said he’s farmed since 1982, but he didn’t start coaching cover crops until 2016.
“A few early innovators were already doing cover crops. That bunch is always a step ahead of the rest of us. But by about 2016, that next large group of farmers were looking for some advice and instruction. So I took up that challenge.”
Groff said because cover crops improve the soil, producers can apply fewer pesticides and fertilizer.
The concept of covering cropping encompasses relay cropping, intercropping and companion cropping and he carries out a lot of cover crop research on his own farm. Groff is like a one-man one-topic extension service for farmers across North America.
But he does more than just talk. If things aren’t progressing quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands. He designed the first cover crop roller-crimper for North America and he developed the deep-rooted tillage radish, which is used by many zero-till farmers to break up hardpan soils.
As well, Groff started the world’s first seed company that sells only cover crop seed.
Groff’s weekly webinar is another way he gets information out to farmers. It also provides him with a source of input from farmers and researchers trying new techniques.
The cost to join Groff’s network of cover croppers is US$299 per year. Each show is recorded for later access by members.
“We stop and talk back and forth whenever a question comes up. It’s a good learning tool.”
Groff said he helping farmers with their crops, agronomists with their training, seed companies with new mix formulations, educators in the field and within institutions. His basic core philosophies: Soil is meant to be covered; Treat your cover crops like your cash crops, because they are.