Cover Crop Movement Gaining Momentum

Farmers after more than soil protection.

Published on: Sep 13, 2011

You could make the case that while some farmers tried them, cover crops haven't caught on in many areas. Traditionally, farmers with steeper fields or farmers with less acreage trying to protect every acre they owned tended to be the ones who tried cover crops most often. Part of the trick is getting them established in the fall, since they should be planted before most row crops, especially corn, are harvested.

That whole trend is taking a major shift. Now farmers growing thousands of acres are interested, Many are no-tillers looking for the next step to improving their soil quality even further. And while soil protection during the winter is still a built-in bonus, that's not what seems to be driving the resurgence toward trying more cover crops. Instead, it's the ability to capture nitrogen during the winter that can be reused next summer when the cover corps break down, and better rooting and improvement of soil health that farmers seem to be after. That's why many farmers are even trying crops on rather flat fields that weren't traditionally considered areas to plant cover crops.

One farmer has rigged up his high-clearance sprayer so he can seed annual ryegrass into standing corn. While he hasn't tried it out yet, he's confident that it will work. Drop tubes will deliver the seeds between the rows. They will be fed by a Gandy box with 36 outlets that is hydraulically driven. Changing out the spray tank for the cover crop hopper went smoothly with his sprayer, the farmer says.

Although he farms in relatively flat to gently rolling country, he's already had several neighbors ask him if he would seed a field or two of cover corps for them this fall as well. The desire to try cover crops is picking up.

Where's he's applying seed ahead of corn next year, he'll include other cover corps, including forage radishes, to try to tie up more N and recycle it for the crop next summer. Since he strip-tills, his units that make the strip will force radishes out of the way so they won't leave root gaps or root balls in the planting zone next spring.

He's not worried that disturbing some soil will bother enough cover crop plants to keep them from doing their job. He's confident that there will be enough room between rows to raise a significant amount of cover crop plants.