On erodible soils, wind and water erosion are important concerns, especially after a season of extreme drought. "The most important benefit from cover crops is increased erosion control" on these soils," says Dan Gillespie, NRCS no-till specialist. "If you stop the soil loss, that is the first step to soil building."
Biological activity in the soils, nutrient cycling and residue cycling are increased greatly when you feed your microbes by giving them living roots through the planting of cover crops to support the systems for as much of the year as possible, Gillespie says. "Yields improve, inputs decrease and you get the satisfaction of knowing you are reversing damage that has been going on for a long time," he says.
Farmers looking for an immediate return on their investment might be challenged by cover crops, he says. "It takes a while to build up those biological systems and improve organic matter numbers," says Gillespie. "I believe that farmers may not see the yield benefits consistently until they have used cover crops for multiple seasons." Managing cover crops also takes extra time and care by producers.
Herbicides can impact cover crops, so producers need to examine their chemical selections beforehand.
"No-till producers are incorporating cover crops into their systems all over the place," Gillespie says. He invites producers to do some homework.
"Go to meetings, ask seed dealers who they have sold seed to in your area and talk with them," he suggests. "Go online and read about other farmers' experiences.
"Mother Nature built our prairie soils to the four to seven percent organic matter range by having living roots growing in the soil for as long as the soil temperatures allowed growth, every day, every month of the year," Gillespie says. Planting cover crops is the same as getting started in no-till, he says. "You just have to do it."
If you'd like more information on incorporating cover crops in no-till systems, contact Gillespie at 402-675-2745 or email Daniel.Gillespie@ne.usda.gov.