Invest in high-quality seed to get cover crops off to a strong start
The tillage radishes that Larry, left, and Scott Rutledge plant as a cover crop can grow to be more than 20" long.
Scott and Larry Rutledge are like a lot of farmers—not all of their ground is perfect. In fact, most of their land in northeast Missouri consists of tight clay soils. A couple of years ago, they decided to try cover crops to address erosion and compaction.
"We didn’t know a lot about cover crops, but through reading magazines and doing a little
research, I found Steve Groff in Pennsylvania who talked with me on the phone and helped me get started," Scott says.
The Rutledge family is part of a growing number of farmers who are experimenting with
cover crops to learn more about how they impact soil health and, ultimately, their pocketbook.
The in-between. "It’s better to have something growing in the soil than to have it devoid of vegetation. Cover crops bridge the gap between when the fall crops are harvested and spring crops are planted," says Mike Roagee, University of Illinois Extension educator, who has been guiding farmers on the use of cover crops for years.
Experts such as Roagee agree that when selecting cover crop seed, farmers need to make sure it is high-quality seed known to perform well in their area. Some experts go so far as to emphasize the use of certified seed.
Wayne Kizer, co-owner of KB Seed Solutions in Harrisburg, Ore., says high-quality seed helps farmers grow a crop that improves the health and vibrancy of their soil.
"We are seeing increased yields while also reducing herbicide and chemical costs for summer annuals," Kizer says.
Farmers who planted cover crops after the 2012 drought also used them for nitrogen management, an added stewardship benefit.
Rutledge planted cover crops this spring for that reason. "We had some prevented planting corn acres that we had already put our fertilizer on, and we knew we wanted to try and keep the nitrogen from leaching through the soil," he says. "We heard radishes would uptake nitrogen and be somewhat available for next year’s crop."
Many farmers are also finding that cover crops are easier to get established than they initially thought.
"We planted the tillage radishes in August, worked the ground first and spread them with a fertilizer cart, then harrowed them in," Rutledge explains. "It didn’t take a lot time or fuel to do that and they came up fast, grew fast and established cover very fast."
You can e-mail Pam Fretwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch a video about selecting the best cover crop seed for your area, visit www.FarmJournal.com/cover_crops.