Modern Use of Cover Crops
One of the most controversial and politically abrasive topics that I have known in my entire career is this “new” practice of using cover crops. Shhhhh….there are people who think using cover crops is a 21st-century idea. Cover crops are merely a re-introduction of an old tried and true concept from the days when there wasn’t so much pressure to produce money-earning crops on every acre all the time.
Let us begin by saying that the use of cover crops is expensive—at least initially. Using cover crops to build the soil is a long-term, continuous process. There are no “silver bullets” to increase soil health, and a single solution will never meet all needs. However, strategic use of cover crops can potentially help producers achieve specific goals for their farms.
What to Consider When Selecting Cover Crops
When selecting cover crops, it’s essential to first identify what you hope to achieve. Different crops provide different kinds of benefits.
If you keep livestock, cover crops can be used for grazing and done rather inexpensively. Wheat works well in this scenario. While it won’t do much to build soil structure, wheat can provide fall and winter grazing for livestock. It will also hold soil in place and help to recycle nutrients. In the spring, you can easily kill wheat, or you can harvest it as a crop.
Soil Health Improvement
More intense cover cropping systems require a bit more sophistication. These utilize different grasses and legumes for the purpose of increasing organic matter and soil porosity. The underlying goal of cover crops is usually to recycle nutrients, improve soil structure, and improve biological diversity, which work together to improve organic content and porosity. The ideal cropping mix will vary, depending, for example, on whether you are in the sands of central Nebraska or the rich soil of central Illinois. What improvements you wish to make in the soil will guide your choice of cover crops.
Whatever your goals in planting cover crops, expect achieving them to be a long-term process. Your soil didn’t get into its present condition overnight, and it won’t significantly improve overnight, either. By beginning sustainable management practices now, however, you can halt degradation and put your soil on the path to optimal health.
Contact SoilRight today for a FREE soil consultation, and learn whether cover crops could be a good choice for your farm.