Interseeding can help farmers plant cover crops and harvest cash crops

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Cover crops
(Cover crops)

Cover crops are a win-win for farmers: they reduce erosion, build organic matter, improve water quality and even help suppress weeds. But, unlike other long-term conservation practices, planting cover crops requires an annual commitment of getting another crop into the ground.

Benefits

Cover crops are like a field of mini superheroes. They can battle compaction by breaking through a plow pan, improve biodiversity and attract pollinators, and they can help counteract our changing weather patterns.

They can increase soil’s organic matter to help hold and retain more water during intense rain events, and a mat of cover crops in the field can also help prevent moisture in the soil from being lost to evaporation during drought events. All of these benefits, combined with cover crops’ filtration powers, can make significant impacts on water quality.

Tighter windows

One of the challenges with adding cover crops into rotations is another pass in the field in the fall.

Farmers are facing tighter and tighter weather windows to get their crops harvested and cover crops in the ground, with our changing weather patterns. More frequent, higher intensity rain events can lay waste to the best laid plans during harvest, when it comes to getting a cover crop planted.

Interseeding

We know farmers’ first priority is harvesting their cash crop, so we hope new strategies like interseeding can open up that seeding window and relieve the time crunch our farmers feel during harvest. Interseeders are designed to allow farmers to plant cover crops earlier in the growing season — about six weeks after the initial cash crop is planted.

The cover crop starts to establish, but because the cash crop has a head start, its canopy shades out the cover crop, slowing its growth. The result is that when the crop is harvested in the fall, the cover crop is already established and in-place in the field, so farmers don’t have to battle unpredictable fall rains to get their cover crop seeded.

When the canopy opens up at harvest, the cover crop really takes off, and the soil is never without cover and protection from erosion. Extensive research has been done through universities, such as Penn State and Ohio State, on the benefits and challenges with interseeding.

Recently Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded a Partners in Watershed Management grant through the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District that allowed it to add an interseeder to the rental program. To reach the district office, call 419-281-7645.

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