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Cover crop decisions

Kacey Birchmier 06/21/2013 @ 3:10pm I grew up on a fourth-generation farm in central Iowa. Follow me on twitter - @KaceyBirchmier.

Don’t forget about prevented planted acres once you report them to crop insurance. Instead, plant cover crops on them, says Jill Sackett, University of Minnesota Extension educator and conservation agronomist.
Farmers with fall-applied nitrogen acres can use cover crops as a management practice to conserve nitrogen (N).
“You have to get something out there that’s going to use it, otherwise, you’re going to lose it,” she says. “There goes your money down the stream.”

Planting a mix of two or more species will provide more benefits than just one species, says Sackett.
“If you do have nitrogen down already, your gut instinct is to go with something that’s going to take up a lot of that nitrogen and really hold it, hopefully, to be released the next year,” she says. “But in order for that release to happen in a timely manner you need for it to decompose quickly.” You can choose among many mix options, including combinations of legumes, brassicas, grasses and broadleaves.

Order seed early, says Sackett. Discuss your cover crop plan with your local Farm Service Agency officials and crop insurance provider before planting.

Cover crops can:

  • Reduce soil erosion from wind and precipitation
  • Increase soil organic matter
  • Increase soil aggregation
  • Provide N
  • Scavenge N
  • Increase cycling of phosphorus and potassium
  • Reduce soil compaction and/or loosen topsoil
  • Increase water infiltration
  • Decrease water evaporation
  • Decrease pest issues
  • Reduce weed pressure
  • Provide livestock forage/grazing

Sackett recommends using a web-based tool, the Cover Crop Decision Tool developed by the Midwest Cover Crop Council, to help you select the correct cover crop for your operation. It allows farmers to input information regarding location – state and county, cash crop – plant and harvest date, drainage and attributes of the cover crops. Then, you are provided a recommendation of different species and planting windows.

You can try the tool yourself at http://mcccdev.anr.msu.edu/vertindex.php#

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