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UNH to host twilight meeting at Grafton County Farm

September 08, 2021
HAVERHILL — As the growing season nears an end, the Grafton County Farm will host a twilight meeting on Sept. 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. to educate farmers about alternative cover crops. The program was launched earlier this year in cooperation with the UNH Cooperative Extension.

Approximately five acres of the farmland was devoted to growing eleven different cover crop species to provide nutrients to the soil yet remain harvestable. The goal was to show local growers what the alternate varieties looked like as they considered seeds for dormant fields.

Additional acreage was used to grow experimental forage crops that could serve as alternative dairy cattle feed. Species included sorghum, sudangrass and a combination of sorghum and cow peas.

"Growing these crops is something Farm Manager Grant Nelson has considered for a long time as part of his feed production. This program gives him the chance to make some side-by-side comparisons and see how he likes them compared to hay," said UNH Cooperative Extension Field Specialist Heather Bryant.

Such planning meetings and workshops allow farmers to gain a hands-on understanding of alternate grasses and how they might fit onto a cropping program, added Bryant.

"Without a mental image of what the plants look like, it can be hard to keep it straight and memorize which crops might be good for which scenarios. We hope that by planting them in the field, we'll be able to take the growers through each crop and discuss their merits," continued the field specialist.

Grafton County Farm Manager Grant Nelson said the experiment occurred in three phases, and the sudangrass yielded the highest success rate.

"The trial was unique in itself because we have a variety of soil types from field to field. It was more challenging than I expected to cut the sudangrass because it reached heights of five and a half feet, and our mower was not equipped to leave a six-inch stubble. However, I'm glad I tried it and would be interested in trying it in a different location where the cattle could graze, " noted Nelson.

The crops were grown in former vegetable fields this season as a solution to labor shortages. Typically, Grafton County inmates harvest the vegetable crops, which supplement meals at the House of Corrections and the Grafton County Nursing Home.

The labor shortages were partly due to the pandemic. However, the county had also experienced a steady decline in inmate populations in recent years.

Grafton County Attorney Marcie Hornick noted that during the pandemic, the courts needed to balance inmate dangerousness against the health concerns of incarceration. However, bail and criminal justice reforms began to decrease inmate populations long before COVID hit last spring.

"The paradigm in how we look at people who commit crimes has shifted to treatment and rehabilitation first, where that wasn't always the case a few years back. There's been a cumulative effect that COVID further exacerbated, and it created a slow-moving shift in the overall feeling about incarcerating people," stated Hornick.

The attorney continued, "With the UNH Cooperative Extension here, it's a tremendous opportunity to utilize what is here and offer training or education for both the people in jail and the greater community. It's very exciting, and the farm is a great potential learning tool to engage local people for the rest of their lives."

The Grafton County Farm Twilight Meeting is scheduled for Thurs, Sept. 9, from 5 to 7 p.m. To learn more, visit www.extension.unh.edu/event/2021/09/twilight-meeting-getting-even-more-out-your-cover-crops.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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