The Dirt on Conservation: Cover crops importance being touted

Cover crops are extremely important to future crop production.
That’s why the Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District is stepping up to the plate this fall by offering their no-till drills for only $8 per acre to plant cover crops.

Did you know that a corn-soybean rotation with average yields on a typical soil in Carroll County has a soil loss of nine tons per acre? It takes 100 to 500 years to make an inch of topsoil and with this level of soil loss, it will not be long before crop production starts to dwindle.

Canopy formed

The protective canopy formed by a cover crop reduces the impact of raindrops on the soil’s surface and can reduce soil erosion by as much as 50 per cent. Over time, a cover crop can increase soil organic matter, which will lead to improvements in soil structure, stability, and increased moisture and nutrient holding capacity for plant growth.

Improved soil structure and stability can improve the soil’s capacity to withstand heavy farm equipment, resulting in less subsurface compaction.

A cover crop can provide a natural means of suppressing soil diseases and pests, along with encouraging beneficial insects, such as lady beetles or ground beetles. A dense stand of winter rye or other cover crops can suppress weeds by soil shading, and allelochemicals from cover crops suppress the growth of other plants.

Crop rotations

Did you know that planting cover crops can result in long-term commercial fertilizer savings?

Properly planned crop rotations that include cover crops hold nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen and releases them to next year’s crop.

How does this work?

Legume cover crops add substantial amounts of available nitrogen to the soil. Non-legume cover crops take up excess nitrogen from previous crops and recycle the nitrogen as well as available phosphorus to the following crop. This is very important because it reduces the leaching of nutrients and has been proven to improve crop yield.

Not only do cover crops offer attributes to the cropland such as reducing erosion, adding organic matter, penetrating compaction layers, and if legumes are planted, fixing nitrogen, they also benefit livestock as feed.

Cover crops

Cover crops can often be grazed by ruminant animals in the early spring before row crops are planted. Oats, rye, radish, and turnips provide high-quality supplemental forage for livestock.

Successful cover cropping requires the selection of a species or mix that will provide specific desired benefits and that will be compatible with the overall farming system.

Most growers who use cover crops derive multiple benefits from them. In many situations, a successful cover crop stand and the greatest benefits can be obtained by using mixtures of species, such as grasses and legumes.

Furthermore, as with cash crops, cover crops should be rotated periodically to avoid the buildup of plant-specific pests. With persistence and creativity, cover cropping can provide many benefits with little or no extra cost.

Meetings

The Carroll SWCD is planning meetings for this winter to help plan for next year. The meetings will help show the benefits of cover crops and different options of what can be planted. If you are interested in attending these meetings call 330-627-9852 for more information.

This article was composed in collaboration with Jessica Zeigler, office associate with OSU Extension.

(Linda Yeager has lived in Carroll County all her life. She has been with the Carroll SWCD since 2001 where she serves as the district administrator.)

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