Cover Crop Increasing in Use

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cover crops are one of the latest management tools being used by producers to improve soil health. In addition to soil health improvement, there are several other potential benefits from growing cover crops such as residual fertility management, weed growth inhibition and some benefits in controlling insects.

As with any new practice, you need to determine is they are having an impact. An analysis of your soil's initial health is a good place to start. This will determine a base line to measure any improvement by. Another way is to plant replicated trials on your farm. Splitting a field or running strips across a field would also give some measure of changes. Soil health will improve every year cover crops are used. The rate of improvement will depend on the original condition of the soil. The poorer the original soil health, the greater the rate of improvement.

Cover crops can provide benefits for your crop production plan as well as your soil health improvement plan. Following are some considerations in planning your use of cover crops:

1. Decide what your goals are for cover crops. Most cover crop species provide more than one benefit.

2. Find a cover crop that fits your region.

3. Different cover crops require different planting windows. Synchronize your crop with the cover crop you intend to use in order to get the maximum benefit from the cover crop.

4. Anticipate the effect of your cover crop on the following cash crop.

5. Use high quality seed from a reputable dealer.

6. Previous herbicide can affect stand establishment of a cover crop as well as limiting the possibility of using the cover crop for grazing. Choice of a herbicide in the previous crop is important.

7. Some cover crops may be hosts for insects or diseases that could be a problem in the succeeding crop. Choose cover crops accordingly.

8. With cover crops, the soil will be cooler and wetter, so plan to plant later.

When first starting with cover crops, realize that cover crops take more management, not less. Start with specific goals and objectives in mind. For your first attempt at planting a cover crop, choose one that is easy to manage and start with a few acres. Don't expect to seed benefits the first year, but depending on the year and the soil, some could occur. A more realistic expectation is to see some definite benefits in three years from cover crops.