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10 Ways Cover Crops Can Make You a Better Producer


Whether you’re facing agronomic or environmental challenges, or want to boost wildlife numbers and availability, the use of cover crops can be part of the solution

Cover crops are getting the headlines in nearly all of the agricultural media outlets today and for good reason: They can work on every farm!

Whether you’re a row-crop farmer, small grain producer, hay producer, farmer-stockman or a combination of all those, there’s a cover crop recipe that can help you boost your farm’s productivity. Maintaining living roots in undisturbed soil is proving to boost farm productivity in a number of ways. The benefits range from improved soil biology and organic matter content levels to reduced soil erosion and prevention of leaching and loss of farm fertilizers.

Rooted in the rapidly-growing soil health movement, the following 10 attributes of cover crops have quickly become apparent:

  • Soil health and tilth improvement through increased organic matter content
  • Nitrogen fixation through the use of legumes
  • Nutrient recapture to prevent leaching and runoff of farm fertilizer
  • Reduce soil compaction through natural tillage by deep-rooted species
  • Quick forage and grazing
  • Weed control through shading by vigorous ground covers
  • Enhancement of no-till farming by providing erosion control and improved water infiltration
  • Prevention of wind and water erosion of topsoil
  • Nematode control through the use of brassicas between cash crops
  • Wildlife food plots
A cover crop of Daikon Radishes in a field

No-till corn and soybean producers are seeing yield increases the first year after incorporating small grain cover crops like cereal rye, triticale or wheat into their rotation. The higher yields are attributed to improved soil moisture infiltration and retention throughout the winter. In some cases, growers also benefit the following season from significant nitrogen fixation through the winter if they’ve included legumes such as crimson clover, hairy vetch, berseem clover or Austrian winter peas with the small grain cover crop.

Corn producers who follow their harvest with a winter small grain crop along with cool season legumes regularly see corn yield bumps of up to 15% the following season, compared with conventional farming. Likewise, soybean producers can look for 10% more beans following a small grain cover crop. The benefits continue to accrue the more seasons cover crops are maintained in the rotation.

Many no-till farmers are using the natural tillage tendencies of some specialized cover crops to treat compacted fields without disturbing the soil. Through the use of brassicas like Daikon radish, rape and turnips, growers benefit from the deep penetration of these plants’ root systems and their ability to recover nutrients from deep in the root zone and redistribute them in the upper layers of the topsoil.

In other cases, the use of brassicas as a rotation crop are showing their ability to reduce nematode populations behind row crops.

Cover crops also can play a large part in managing for wildlife through specialized mixes for spring and fall planting.

Cover crops address a number of agronomic and environmental issues, and USDA-NRCS cost-share programs may be available to help incorporate them into an operation.

Southern States offers a number of proprietary spring- and fall-planted cover crop mixes to address nearly any farming challenge, along with the expertise to help growers choose what combination may work best on any given farm’s individual soils and geography. Visit with your local Southern States representative for cover crop programs appropriate for your operation.


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