The following information is a Web Extra from the pages of Farm Journal. It corresponds with the article "Hand in Hand." You can find the article in Farm Journal's January 2012 issue.
Watch this video interview with Larry Bonnell:
Two of Larry Bonnell’s favorite publications about the principles and practice of cover crops are:
The Third Edition of the respected guide, Managing Cover Crops Profitably
, published by USDA’s Sustainable Research and Education (SARE) can be ordered, or downloaded for free
Here is some additional information from the story:
Cover Crops Will Grow On You, Upstream Hero Predicts
It’s hardly surprising that Larry Bonnell (see adjacent story) thinks other farmers, whether they plant no-till or conventionally, should give cover crops a try on their own farms.
Along with no-till planting, Bonnell credits covers with improving soil quality, making more nutrients available and reducing the risk of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching or eroding into water supplies.
Bonnell predicts no-till and cover crops will eventually play a role in combating global warming. "Cover crops are the future," he says. "There are so many cover crops out there, suited to different objectives. "Select one based on your goals. Do you want to increase your soil’s ability to supply nutrients, for example, or do you want to loosen hardpan layers?"
Start with a few acres, Bonnell advises. "Do what you feel comfortable with. After four or five years, you’ll see the benefit, and your whole mindset will change."
Escaped N and P Threaten Water Supplies
Besides economics, a major reason you don’t want nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) leaving your fields is that it eventually can travel all the way to water bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico. There, excessive nutrients create hypoxia, a low-oxygen condition. When oxygen levels in the water fall too low, aquatic organisms can no longer live there. Hypoxic areas often are called "dead zones."
The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the second largest such zone in the world. The drainage area that feeds the Gulf extends roughly from the Rocky Mountains to Virginia.
While agriculture is not the only contributor of N and P, most experts agree farming plays a role and operators must strive to keep crop nutrients from leaving their farms. Although efforts to reduce the hypoxic zone so far have focused on voluntary conservation programs, calls for some type of regulations on fertilizer use could arise down the road.
You can find out more about Gulf hypoxia by visiting http://www.gulfhypoxia.net
. And you can learn about nutrient management practices, and cost-share programs to help you adopt them, by visiting your USDA Service Center.