Cover Crop Tips
It is no surprise that the year-in, year-out production of high yielding crops can be compromising to a soil’s health. What have we found to be the best solution to degrading soil health? No doubt — cover crops.
Cover crops are naturally inclined to delay erosion, promote mineralization, suppress weeds, and better control diseases — among other plentiful benefits. By planting cover crops such as radishes, annual ryegrass, winter rye, certain legumes, or a high performance blend, your soil will benefit from the improved soil health. This benefit inevitably has to result in increased yields.
The benefits of stimulating your soils through the implementation of cover crops outweigh the disadvantages of cost or inconvenience. One of the many ways cover crops improve soil health is by minimizing erosion. Cover crops delay erosion by mitigating compaction, reducing rain runoff, and increasing water infiltration. Keeping more topsoil and increasing soil organic matter aids in the soil’s ability to mineralize more nutrients and to keep more nitrogen in the soil for the next cash crop.
If your agronomic goals for the year have to do with improving soil health, some of the items on your to-do list might include: increasing nutrients, sequestering nitrogen, reversing the effects of erosion, improving water infiltration, and controlling weeds. Is your land thirsty for these changes? We know just how to reach these soil health goals: with cover crop mixes.
By planting cover crops or a mix of them typically outside of the regular growing season, your fields will reap the reward of healthy soil ready to nurture healthy roots. Cover crop mixes provide for biodiversity in the soil profile, helping to awaken the soil and stimulate soil biology later into the fall and earlier in the spring.
Not only do cover crop mixes increase soil health by sequestering necessary nutrients; they also minimize risks that could have an adverse effect on your primary crops. For example, without cover crops, your fields are more at risk of erosion, soil compaction, and run-off. Don’t risk these damaging agents; instead, learn more about cover crops and take advantage of their benefits.
The benefits of using cover crops are unmistakable; reversing erosion, reducing soil compaction, increasing organic matter, and an overall increase in cash crop yields are just some of the advantages of planting cover crops.
It is important to plant, manage, and terminate cover crops based on your goals. For example, cereal grains like rye and barley are incredible nitrogen sequesters while also being especially good for erosion prevention. Add in cover crop radishes and that makes a blend that is hard to beat. Manage and terminate your cover crops depending on the needs of your soil.
The timing and method of planting cover crops like radishes, annual ryegrass, winter rye, legumes, or a high performance blend are important. Most often, cover crops are established just prior to or right after the cash crop is harvested. Planting methods include drilling, aerial seeding, and broadcasting — among others.
Usually, cover crops are terminated before cash crop production. Termination options include tilling, herbicides, or roller-crimping. Termination should also be based on your soil goals. Is your soil most often plagued by compaction or run-off? Is your agronomic battle constantly against weeds? If you need nitrogen, then you need to kill the cover crop in its vegetative state to get the most nitrogen out of it.
It is being proven that planting primary crops directly into the cover crop instead of terminating the cover crop weeks beforehand can add to the overall health of your soil. This new strategy is known as “planting green”.
Planting green has several benefits, including increasing organic matter in the soil and increasing the time that the soil is protected from erosion. By harvesting more solar energy, the amount of carbon (organic matter) in the soil will increase. Planting into green cover crops also gives your soil a better chance to fix more nitrogen, and for extra soil moisture to be soaked up by the roots of the cover crop. This means that during wet springs, the soil dries up quicker and cash crops can more quickly be planted.
Overall, planting into green cover crops establishes the primary crop into moist, healthy soil. It also gives farmers a chance to better manage the cover crop residue. Planting equipment can move through a succulent living cover crop more easily than it can in decaying brittle residue.
Because there are multiple cover crops to choose from, many different methods of management, and several different ways to terminate cover crops, planting cover crops requires a lot of forward planning.
Is your soil at particular risk of erosion? Are your fields plagued by constant run-off or compaction? Do you need a boost in your nitrogen, root systems, or overall nutrients? Different cover crops are more effective at providing different benefits, so you must plan ahead.
Planning ahead is also important because your cash crop yields will not increase if your management and termination are not premeditated and thoroughly calculated beforehand. Timing is everything when it comes to maximizing your opportunities.