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Can cover crops curb saline seeps?

Gil Gullickson Updated: 09/04/2013 @ 10:22am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha!”

Many times, crop maladies are linked to a lack of water. Saline seeps take an opposite tack. These salty areas in fields are rooted in water unused by crops percolating down through a soil. On its way down, the water also begins leaching mineral salts. Eventually, the water hits an impermeable layer and then flows to lower areas with a surface water table. As water evaporates, the remaining salts severely slice yields of growing crops.

Saline seeps didn’t occur before European settlers broke the North American prairie. There wasn’t any unused water, and nitrogen (N) as tall prairie grasses consumed them year-round. Saline seeps only occurred when crops and idle land did not use all water and N.  

Cover crops planted between main crops halt this, mainly by sucking up unused nitrogen. “When you get rid of the excess nitrogen, you get rid of the saline seep,” says Dwayne Beck.

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