February 1, 2023

Discover the Benefits of Cover Crops Plus 4R Nutrient Management

The first year Allen Dean planted a Spring cover crop of oats, he was shocked to see his winter barley come up, dark and green, simply one week after planting.
” I thought, wow, I cant believe that stuff turned up that quick,” states the Northeast Ohio farmer of soybeans, wheat and barley. Dean was so captivated, he chose to stroll the 27-acre barley field. It was like “walking on a sponge,” with all the earthworm middens, he states. “Those earthworms had literally turned that farm upside down.”
Ohio farmer Allen Dean © David Ike
A cover crop enthusiast for more than 14 years now, Dean sees amazing changes and huge advantages to his soil, from increased water holding capacity, to less disintegration from wind or rain, to much better soil biology. And, he states, “its producing better money crops.”
More farmers have been turning to cover crops these past few years, and for great factor.
Research reveals that they can improve the long-lasting health and profitability of farms. Among their numerous possible benefits, they minimize erosion by keeping living roots in the soil and preserving a ground cover. They construct soil organic matter and enhance soil structure, which can help farm fields better hold up against drought, floods and other extreme and increasingly unforeseeable weather condition, while using farmers a chance to take part in soil carbon markets. They likewise suppress weeds, which can minimize the need for herbicides and save farmers cash.
Significantly, cover crops also complement 4R Nutrient Stewardship practices– which describe using the right fertilizer source at the best rate, at the right time, and in the ideal location– by improving nutrition cycling and reducing nutrient leaching and overflow. When 4R management strategies are combined with cover crop practices, both the farming operation and the environment advantage.
” What weve found is cover crops is a quite simple method … and a cool practice that can help enhance our 4Rs. They actually contribute,” says Lisa Kubik, a farmer and the previous Iowa Field Manager for the Soil Health Partnership, a farmer-led effort of the National Corn Growers Association, that worked with farmers from 2014 to 2021 to study the ecological and economic benefits of soil health practices.
Cereal rye cover crop growing on a farm in northwest Ohio. © David Ike
Take the example of cereal rye, a popular cover crop that corn and soybean farmers infiltrate their fall rotation. Cereal rye is so efficient at scavenging nitrogen that some research studies reveal it can catch majority of the recurring nitrogen that may otherwise have seeped from soil, and potentially impacted water quality. Its likewise been shown to minimize phosphorus loading by 29 percent, and boost soil aggregate ability after four years, which in turn leads to much better water purification, less soil crusting and disintegration.
As Kubik explains, “If we have any nitrogen left over, or fertilizer in the field, the cover crop will uptake those nutrients and make certain were not losing them over the winter into the spring when we do not have a crop there. It can definitely aid with timing and ensuring were not losing our nutrients.”
Fall Cover Crops
Planting a fall cover crop like cereal rye is especially advantageous when theres a rainy spring the following year, and a greater possibility to lose some of the nutrients that were applied in the fall. Planting a cover crop in the fall can similarly help keep nutrients on the farm after severe summer season weather condition. The derecho that swept through main Iowa in August 2020, for example, fell the corn crop in some locations, and due to the fact that it was unable to be harvested, a great deal of nutrients were left in the fields. Planting a cover crop used the farmers suffering these losses a great chance to protect the nutrients for the next spring, according to Kubik.
However, Kubik also cautions that cover crops are not a replacement for fertilizer. Studies show that while the cover crops soak up the nitrogen in the soil, insufficient of it returns into the system after the cover crop is ended to provide enough nutrients for the next crop.
And she says, “you cant simply dispose a lot of fertilizer out there and state, my cover crops will take care of it. We still need to be excellent stewards about how were using nutrients to the land.”
Rye grass cover crop growing in corn residue on Iowa farm. © Jason Johnson/USDA-NRCS
In the past, cover crops might have gotten a bum rap for knocking corn and soybean yields the list below year, but Kubik says that more recent research study shows thats not the case. A six-year study conducted by the Soil Health Partnership did not find any yield distinction typically, and if it did discover a difference, that difference was more associated with a known management concern, something that took place between planting and harvesting of the cash crop.
” Weve gotten respectable at managing these cover crops, and as long as you follow a particular number of actions, the majority of the time we do not see any yield difference,” says Kubik.
As far as seed expenses go, there are a great deal of programs that offer financial backing or cost sharing, consisting of nationwide USDA programs and regional NRCS workplaces, or other state or regional programs. Because cover crops are so fashionable now, “there are heaps and lots of resources out there,” says Kubik. “Its quite hard not to find them if youre attempting to look.”
Farmers dealing with the Soil Health Partnership paid an average $15 per acre for cover crop seed and $12 per acre to apply the seed in 2019.
” Start Slow”
For farmers who want to try cover crops, Kubiks biggest suggestion is to begin slow and with a little trial, say on 20 to 40 acres and with a single range. Its important to make sure cover crops fit with your operation, she states, and to prevent any potentially huge management problem your very first year. Second, its essential to discover a coach– another farmer or a neighbor whos currently embraced cover crop use, who can guide you.
Lastly, its important to recognize that there is no one way, or ideal method, to approach cover crops. It will depend on the farmers goals, the devices they currently have on hand or might get to plant the seed, their current cropping system, and climatic zone. Different crops serve different purposes, whether for nutrient uptake, weed control, constructing soil raw material, or for grazing animals.
In Ohio, Dean turned to cover crops to keep his soils and nutrients from washing off his farm during heavy rains events. The list below year he planted cereal rye, a sturdy winter cover crop with deep roots, along with the radishes, and found that those 2 crops together kept his soil intact during the next springs rains.
Each year Dean explore including brand-new cover crops to the mix. Eventually he even introduced his own cover crop side organization. “I tell farmers it is genuinely the new frontier in agriculture,” he says.

Planting a cover crop in the fall can similarly help keep nutrients on the farm after extreme summer season weather. Planting a cover crop used the farmers suffering these losses a terrific chance to preserve the nutrients for the next spring, according to Kubik.
For farmers who desire to try cover crops, Kubiks greatest recommendation is to begin sluggish and with a small trial, say on 20 to 40 acres and with a single range. In Ohio, Dean turned to cover crops to keep his soils and nutrients from washing off his farm throughout heavy rainfall events. The list below year he planted cereal rye, a sturdy winter season cover crop with deep roots, along with the radishes, and found that those 2 crops together kept his soil undamaged throughout the next springs rains.

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