May 5, 2018
This week, I had the pleasure of
interviewing Steve Groff, a
farmer and cover crop pioneer who has also worked with the
University of Maryland on extensive cover crop research. Steve
founded Cover Crop Coaching in 2016 and has spoken to audiences
across North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, and many other
parts of the world on the use of cover crops across the full range
of agricultural applications.
In this episode, we talk about
important management tools to incorporate with cover crops, the
causes of erosion in a soil system, and how farmers can supply
consumer demand for nutritional value. We also discuss farm
economics, the books Steve read that started him in cover cropping
and a step by step guide for growers who want to start developing
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Resources recommended by Steve
Episode 7 - Steve Groff
3:00 - What are some of the
memorable moments that have lead Steve to where he is
started no till in the early 80’s - Solely to stop soil
- A key
moment for Steve was 3 years into doing no till - He noticed his
soil was beginning to “mellow out”
we can transfer to no till much faster than ever before
1995 Steve started researching cover crops - he noticed after a
drought year that he had 28 bushels more of corn preceding the
previous 3 years
is all-in on cover crops!
8:20 - Erosion is a symptom of a
- Healthier soil isn’t going to blow or wash
don’t have a runoff problem, we have a water infiltration
is encouraged by seeing mainstream agriculture start to clue
10:00 - Can we completely
resolve erosion with the use of cover crops?
can greatly reduce it
just cover crops - there are many other practices however they are
a key component. Cover crops are a tool - you need to manage them
- Having a living root in the soil as long as
possible is important
- Having diversity of species is important - we
can enhance this with cover crops!
- Less/zero soil disturbance is
12:30 - What are some of the
other important tools farmers should incorporate?
- Fertility management - (Ex: Avoid anhydrous
ammonia, high salt fertilizers)
you get your soil functioning, you can start unlocking things that
were locked before, such as allowing more access to certain
isn’t saying everyone needs to be no till - but does advocate it.
Tillage is a destructive event
15:10 - How important is it to
have a diversity of cover crops?
is a time and a place for single species cover crops
always plants mixed species
have to play around and see what works on your farm!
many species do you need? Going beyond 6-8; advantages start to
species doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive
crop mixes can be thought of as a “one plus one equals three”
20:30 - What is something that
Steve has puzzled over?
link to human health from how we grow plants and nutrient
noticed that the USDA doesn’t say how they establish the averages
for nutritional value
is looking into creating branding for nutritional basis
26:00 - Does Steve believe it is
possible that farmers will be compensated for growing
- Generally, Steve thinks yes.
- Majority of plant genetics are made for yield -
so it may take awhile to get right
are some plant breeders that are now breeding for quality over
30:50 - Buyers care about flavor
and aroma - These are the same markers of nutrient
- Flavor and aroma is what makes repeat
can also be traced back to plant genetics and breeding - it’s
important to build from the ground up
similarities between microbiome of our gut and the microbiome of
35:50 - What is something that
has surprised Steve in his work?
importance of soil health - What tools like cover crops and no
tillage are capable of
you get the system working, you don’t need as much
expects to continue being surprised as he tries to discover
38:00 - What does Steve believe
to be true about agriculture that many others do not?
- Reducing input is not going to lead to “mining
out” the soil
the use of insecticides and fungicides can be reduced
- “Would you take chemo to prevent
41:40 - What does Steve believe
to be the biggest opportunity in agriculture today?
- Cycles always come and go
- Regenerative agriculture and growing with
believes there is a bright future ahead
45:00 - What is a book or
resource that Steve would recommend?
46:50 - What ideas or technology
is Steve excited about for the future of agriculture?
- Advancement on cover crop equipment
50:10 - Is Steve having
finds it fulfilling to help farmers and being a steward of God’s
51:10 - What would Steve
recommend to a farmer starting down this path today?
What do you want to accomplish? Good to prioritise when you’re
of year will determine species to plant
apply a new practice to the amount of plants you can afford to
all you can - Talk to and follow those who are achieving what you
want to do
54:40 - What does Steve wish
John had asked?
the economics work out - “How can I do this, and
56:20 - What has been the
economic impact of cover crops on Steve’s operations?
- Looking at 5 years - Fertilizer went down 50%,
and chemicals went down 37%
58:20 - What was the cost of
- Growing your own cover crops cuts down on
lbs of nitrogen instead of 175-200 lbs
- Average corn yield is between
pumpkins: Can cut nitrogen rate to 45-50 lbs
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