There has been a great deal of attention from the public, government, and the agricultural industry about using cover crops. So why is everyone so infatuated with the idea of using them?
First, there are many environmental benefits from having cover crops. Consumer demand for sustainable food and products is also a big part of the movement toward using cover crops. These benefits are important, but we also need to concentrate on the benefits for farmers. More and more farmers are learning these benefits, and the more we work with cover crops, the more we understand what works in our area and our fields and for your bottom line.
Doing What Works for You
We have learned a few things over the years, and the first step is knowing that cover crops are part of a system, not just an add-on to an operation. Figuring out what issues you want to help control is a big part of knowing what to do. Adapting your system to let the cover crop do its job will help you increase the benefits and maybe reduce some other inputs.
Lessons Learned in 2022
The first thing we learned this year is also one we saw last year. You can use cover crops to reduce the effects of extreme weather conditions. Cover crops combined with a no-till system have proven to help in the previous years with excessive rainfall, and this year has proven to help with droughty conditions as long as they were managed correctly and timely. Also, using those two practices together has shown more benefit than using either practice on its own. This year also showed a significant benefit earlier in the season with the big wind event in April by protecting the soil, fertilizer investment, and herbicides already applied. That big dust cloud contained more than just soil and moved the investment for that field off target. Weed control is the biggest thing we have seen this year. Cover crop fields that were no-tilled had noticeably less volunteer corn and saw better weed control. We also learned that terminating rye between 6" - 10" tall was the most effective at weed control and still did not affect the soybeans.
Timing of Termination
Keep in mind that the timing of the cover crop termination is critical. Terminating too soon reduces the benefits such as weed control, and doing it too late can use up more resources, such as water. Being patient at planting can prove to be a more considerable benefit after the crop has emerged than planting into too cold or wet soil. The more consistent water profile, soil density, and soil temperature in cover crop fields also help with more even and more efficient root development and plant growth. Weed control is also better when the cover crop gets taller.
Return on investment
Some long-term benefits of having cover crops include controlling soil erosion, soil health, and water quality. The more immediate benefits include helping with weed, insect, and disease management while reducing your input costs. Click on the link to see how much you could add to your bottom line:
There are many options for cover crop seed and ways to get the seed planted. At FCS, we offer many options for planting cover crops, including aerial seeding, intercrop seeding with a Hagie drop seeder, air spreader application, and custom drilling.
Getting everything to work together and positively impacting your return on investment can be daunting. Still, with the proper knowledge and right advisors to help, it can also return big rewards on multiple levels for your farm.
To find out more information on cover crops, call Josh Plueger, our Conservation Agronomist, at 712-720-9831