Will this rain ever stop? We seem to be lucky to have two dry days in a row. I’m sure many have noticed that there are many fields that have been flooded out and many that weren’t even planted at all. I’m here to provide a little bit of a silver lining in this mess of a planting season. This scenario is perfect for attempting cover crops for the first time.
Barry Fisher, State Soil Health Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service encourages farmers to consider planting cover crops as an alternative to leaving the soil fallow for the year. It is vital to soil health that there be some sort of root system alive and growing for soil biology to work correctly. Many producers put nutrients out in the hopes that they would help their soybean or corn crop. With the heavy rains, many crop fields weren’t planted and therefore many nutrients are still there with the potential of leaving and finding their way to the streams and rivers were we do not want them. According to Fisher, “cover crops will fix and/or hold onto unused nitrogen and other nutrients, build organic matter, control weeds, control erosion and/or improve soil health during the remainder of the season.”
Many producers are probably going to take advantage of their crop insurance prevent planting payment. With that payment and a full year’s worth of green manure, the following crop may produce an economic benefit. Make sure to check with FSA and your crop insurance agent before planting cover crops in conjunction with prevent planting.
Why are cover crops a better option than a tilled bare field? Barry Fisher explains, “As excessive rainfall runoff or flood waters cut across unprotected fields it carries away the top soil, leaving erosion and scouring. On the other hand, when fields are saturated for long periods the soil will lose important soil organisms. With either of these situations, soil health is lost or severely impacted. A tilled, bare, fallow field will lose even more carbon, nitrogen and organic matter. Tilled fields will be subject to erosion, compacting and crusting. Seeding a cover crop instead of tilling the soil will help protect the soil from further damage.”
There are some things that you’ll want to check on before running out and planting a cover crop. What herbicide carryover do you have, if any? Do you want to have to kill the cover
crop in the spring, or do you want a mix that will winter kill? A mix of oats and radishes will
winter kill and is a great way to get your feet wet in the cover crop bucket. Overall, the biggest key is to try and build topsoil and not lose it. Cover crops can help you do that. Let us know how we can help. Our mission is to promote the wise use of our natural resources to every producer in Adams County. Cover crops can prove to be a very wise use of our resources.