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Advisor

Where are all the cover crops?

Just worked up a piece (full story) about a new farmer survey showing some phenomenal benefits to cover crops--big yield benefits, reduced compaction, improved soil health, etc. 

 

The survey showed that cover crop acreage among the farmers surveyed grew by 350% from 2008 to 2012. A Successful Farming reader panel survey this spring indicated that 28% of farmers say they are growing cover crops, and another 38% say they plan to do so in the future. 

 

That's a lot of cover crops, though my windshield surveys this spring didn't turn up all that many plantings.

 

But, it's heartening to hear about the growth of this practice, given all the benefits to the soil--and the bottom line, too, apparently.

 

What are you seeing in your neighborhood? Thoughts? 

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20 Replies
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Senior Contributor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

I am going to ask a dumb question on cover crops. Do you mean the Brome Grass that the goverment requires you to plant to have land in the CRP Program. My land is in North Central Iowa and the only cover crop we plant is for the CRP or the Buffer Strip Program.

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Senior Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

rsw - They are talking about cow peas - turnips and crops like that .

 

Jim - there has been more acres tried here in Shelby County the past few years , The problem we have is fall planting window - Last year was great for covers - we harvested very early and then the cover really took off -other years it barely comes up and they are just not getting much benefit for the thecover = plus the 20 bucks for seed .

 

Good  story .

 

Ken

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

John, covers are a pain. Most guys around here are hard pressed just to get corn and beans out of the field in the fall, let alone take the time to plant a cover crop. In the northern and central cornbelt it would be hard to plant cover crops timely enough to get the full benefits of the cover. At a seminar I attended this past winter, one of the main topics was cover crops and their benefits to the soils and eventually our bottom line....... I tried to listen and figure out which system would work for me and I just couldn't find a system that fit my farm enough to spend the money on seed, fuel and equipment wear for a crop that takes nutrients, water and attracts early season insects and pays nothing. I do believe cover crops have a place on the great plains to prevent soil erosion. Im sure somebody will disagree with me and that's OK, I may try covers in the future but for right now I just can't find the right cover crop fit for me.

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Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

Hi, RSW: There are no dumb questions in this corner of the country. But, by cover crops we're talking about those grown on cropland--not idle acres--to provide nutrients, organic matter, soil tilth, erosion control, etc.. Some of the common ones I'm aware of are annual ryegrass, winter peas, NItroRadish, and crimson clover. -- John 

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Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

Ken: Thanks for the feedback.  How did you seed the cover crops there? Cover crop seed growers who stopped by here recently said most of their seed is aerially planted before harvest. Suppose that's the most convenient, and most expensive, method? -- John 

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Senior Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

John - Got your name right that time- lol sorry about that - but anyway - I have seen guys have  a floater spread it with fert. And then disk it in  -- drilled -- - and by plane - I have seen that done twice - now that's a trip , they fly higher a little higher than when they spray - but you can hear the seeds hitting the corn from a mile away , true story .

 

The reason they do it here that way is to try to get a longer growing season for the cover , but it has to rain on it to sprout it , A neighbor has done this for the last 3 or 4 years and only got one good cover crop from it and that was last year .

 

I'm in the same boat as blacky - the season is just not long enough to justifie the cost for maybe no return - because it didn't come up .

 

What I'm seeing here - this year is that some are going back to raising wheat - then they are planting , some kind of clover in it and it has all summer to grow , here in East Central In - i think that's the way to go .

 

Just think back 20 or 30 years ago , just about everybody had some type of 3 way crop rotations plus we had hay out . Then we all went to raising corn and beans = where the moneys at - maybe .

 

That is what we are missing today and -- to me -- that's what the use of covers is all about - useing the green manure and the roots systems from the covers .

 

As for me - I was going to plant covers last year - but pulled the plug - was afraid of chemical carry over from drought .

 

But have give it great thought as to try it this year - If i do it - i will plant wheat - get the return from selling the wheat then add some sweet clover or something like that to it and then turn it under next fall -- IF I can find a moldboard plow - lol

 

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Highlighted

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

I think there is a great example here of where public research investment could produce big benefits.

 

I'll submit that there really aren't that many good choices that will work most years in the northern 2/3rds of the corn belt. Something leguminous would be wonderful and it would need to be a lot more winter hardy and dependable in establishment than anything that's currently available.

 

Genetic modification practices would be fine in that sort of application because it isn't entering the food chain anyway (although many would protest that argument because it implies that something might not be perfect about GMO grains in the food chain).

 

The big biotech corps aren't going to view this as something with sufficient profit potential to be worthy of their R and D money. But USDA/ARS and the Land Grants do have those capabilities and any useful outcome could be licensed to the private sector, just like in the old days.

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Highlighted
Advisor

Re: Where are all the cover crops?

i've seen some kind of radish or turnups used for cover in tennessee and alabama but they harvest  in august down there. a buddy of mine bought 1500 bucks worth of  turnup seed and spread it in october and not one of them came up. pretty expensive experiment. you're right about the corn-beans-wheat-hay rotation but that just isn't done anymore

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Re: Where are all the cover crops?

I like a corn/soy/wheat rotation and think I can almost, in theory, make it equal a corn/soy rotation if I give a 4 bpa credit to the beans for two years of outrotation and maybe a smidge to to corn as well- throw in a little value to the diversification and cash flow.

 

Unfortunately on the scale that many people farm on today, SRW is just too risky. If you have a rainy spell at harvest the thing can go bad on you pretty quick.

 

Unfortunately I think some ECB growers are having just that sort of year.

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