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Get the Most Out of Your Cover Crop Investment

July 24, 2014
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
Craig Weisman
Craig Weisman says cover crops have done an excellent job of minimizing soil erosion on his Indiana farm.  

Concrete goals can help you capture a return on investment with cover crops.

Show me the money: that’s the comment Ken Ferrie says his farmer customers always make when he brings up the topic of cover crops with them. And why not? Every practice on the farm has to provide a payoff in some fashion for it to be worth implementing.

That’s no less true for the use of cover crops, which have grabbed headlines and farmers’ attention across the country the past few years.

Historically, farmers planted cover crops for erosion prevention and control or to provide additional pasture for grazing livestock. Today, there is increased interest in the use of cover crops due to additional agronomic and environmental benefits they offer. But some farmers, in their haste to capture the perceived benefits of cover crops, have tried them and discarded them because they didn’t deliver a benefit the first time out; or, worse yet, they created agronomic problems in the field.

"Not knowing what you’re doing with them can be hazardous," Ferrie acknowledges.

He says farmers need to develop a comprehensive approach to using cover crops. He adds that the process should start with identifying and establishing specific, measurable goals.

Some potential objectives to consider using cover crops for:

• A nitrogen source

• Winter grazing and spring forage

• Erosion control, stewardship

• Nutrient recycling, cleaner water

• Weed management

• Soil health

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