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Aug 2017

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Crop Management News

Cover Crops: Creating a Plan for Success

by Bryan Parr, ProfitProAG Consultant

Cover crops have become one of the fastest growing sectors in the seed industry over the past several years, and there are good reasons for this growth. When asked in a recent survey by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) what the most valuable benefits were for using cover crops, the number one benefit listed was: increased overall soil health.

It was followed by:

·   reduced soil compaction

·   controls weeds

·    reduced soil erosion

·    increased soil organic matter

While there are many more benefits to using cover crops, there are challenges as well. In the same survey, farmers were also asked to list the most challenging aspects of using cover crops in their cropping systems.

The top five answers were:

·   no measurable economic return

·   seeding the right species for individual operations

·   time/labor required for planting and managing cover crops

·   cover crop seed cost

·   establishment

Regardless of the many challenges that come with implementing a cropping system that includes cover crops, most farmers indicate that the benefits more than out-weigh the challenges.

Knowing the top five most challenging aspects of cover cropping, how can a producer eliminate or reduce these challenges? The following 10 questions can help producers determine the why, where, when and how to include cover crops into their current cropping system.

The questions are listed in the order of importance since it is important to take a systematic approach to selecting the right seed for an individual operation. By doing so, the challenges are reduced and will provide the best opportunity for successfully adding a cover crop in a crop rotation.

1. What is the ultimate goal? Build organic matter, produce nitrogen to reduce fertilizer costs, suppress weeds, etc.? This is the first and most important question that needs to be answered. Without answering this question accurately, a producer risks being unhappy with the results.

Once a goal has been established, the next series of questions can be answered.

2. What season(s) are necessary to best establish the species of cover crops needed to reach these goals?

3. Is the plan to seed cover crops for the whole farm or certain acres/fields?

4. Can this cover crop be included in the current rotation or do adjustments need to be made?

5. Can the chosen cover crop be seeded with another crop in the rotation or does it need to be seeded independently?

6. Can it be utilized for a cover crop as a forage, grain or pasture for additional income?

7. Determine how to terminate—winterkill, herbicide, no-till crimping, etc.

8. Can a diverse mixture of species be included or will a single species accomplish the goal?

9. What are the fertility and moisture requirements of the selected cover crop?

10. Where’s the best place to get seed, and when should it be ordered?

When these questions are answered, a better picture will emerge of the why, how, when and where to include cover crops in a crop rotation.

Throughout the growing season cover crops can be seeded:

·   after a small grain or early season crop

·   during aerial seeding at the end of August into corn or soybeans

·   during early fall after harvest

·   before or after livestock manure application or strip tilling

ProfitPro AG’s crop consultants can provide the expertise for the cover crop planning process. The company carries a complete line of cover crop seed and mixes, which includes a custom blend of any requested cover crop seed mixes including the recommended biological seed coating ProfitCoat PB blended with the mix, which helps assure seedling establishment and vigor.

Remember, cover crops help balance soils, improve nutrient retention and improve soil biology and health. Better soil health leads to increased profitability and produces value-added, nutrient-dense crops.



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