Keep your farm covered with cover crops

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As corn and soybeans are coming off of fields, many farmers are making plans to get cover crops onto these fields in the coming weeks.

Cover crops have been a major topic in many recent field days, meetings, and articles.

Erosion control

Cover crops can be planted for many reasons. While we often focus on the ability of cover crops to help hold soils in place and prevent erosion, cover crops can also increase soil organic matter, capture and recycle nutrients, promote nitrogen fixation, suppress weeds, manage soil moisture, and reduce soil compaction.

Cover crops help reduce erosion by providing cover on the soil surface. Regardless of whether this in the form of a living plant or dead residue, this coverage slows down water as it moves over the soil surface. The root systems of the cover crop also help hold soils below ground.

Organic matter

As roots, stems, and leave decompose they add important organic matter to soils. Cover crops can also scavenge nutrients from deeper in the soil profile, or nutrients that would normally be lost during winter and spring. Certain varieties of cover crops such as clover, vetch, and winter peas are nitrogen fixers and will increase nitrogen.

Soil compaction

Cover crops such as annual ryegrass and oilseed radish can help break up soil compaction with their root systems. While most of the discussion happening around cover crops is about protecting soil on our farms, cover crops can be used to protect soils on smaller backyard gardens.

Cost share programs

There are cost share funds available in some regions through your local SWCD or NRCS office. While time is running out, it’s not too late to plan for cover crops following your harvest. Planting a cover crop, especially on soybean and corn silage ground, is an important tool to keep priceless soil healthy and in place on your farm.

Assistance

Your local SWCD can assist you in planning cover crops and can provide technical information such as seeding dates, rates of application, and species selection.

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Josh Britton is the watershed specialist for Harrison and Carroll Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He has a bachelor of science in biology from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a master of environmental science from Taylor University. He can be reached by calling either 740-942-8837 or 330-627-9852, or by email at josh.britton@hswcd.org.

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