Impacting soil health through cover crops is a practice that continues to expand on farms across the Midwest. Since “health” suggests something living, viewing soils as a living resource to protect and improve makes the idea of using soil conservation practices, like cover crops, more practical and economical.
It may take time to create major advances in soil quality; however, progress can be made by following some basic soil health principles. These include minimizing soil disturbance, providing continuous living roots, and maximizing soil cover and biodiversity. Each of these principles can be achieved in part by use of cover crops on the farm.
While cover crops won’t be seeded for several months, the cover crop key decision season is upon us. Make sure you keep these steps in mind to ensure success:
1. Have a goal. Ask: “What do I want to accomplish by planting a cover crop and what benefits do I want to work toward?”
2. Select the right cover crops to reach your goals. There are many species on the market and each has a distinct set of characteristics to achieve different outcomes. Wrong choices lead to more problems.
3. Have a plan. Think about changes that may be needed to your current farming system to allow for correct establishment (and management):
• Modifying crop rotation (perhaps adding another crop to your rotation creates a wider window in fall)
• Altering previous crop’s harvest slightly for more timing flexibility
• Adjusting herbicide program for timely cover crop seedingA
• Additional pass in fall and/or spring for planting and spring termination
4. Select a field or areas of your farm that will benefit most from a cover crop.
5. Think small acres starting out. Consider new management concepts needed when first trying cover crops.
6. Get seed ordered soon. It may take longer than you think for less-traditional seed to arrive. Good, clean seed is the most demanded too. (Seed, not grain. Seed is professionally grown and maintained for good quality and germination.)
7. Allocate labor and equipment. Depending on your seeding plan, you may need extra help for prompt seeding after cash crop harvest. If the plan includes custom seeding, communicate plans early to ensure timely application.
8. Consider leaving a check strip for comparison. How better to determine progress than by seeing uncovered ground side-by-side?
9. Balance goals and spring management wisely. Even the perfect cover crop not managed or terminated correctly in spring can lead to setbacks for your subsequent cash crop.
10. Make a commitment. Some goals are easily noticed and well defined, but improving soil health is a journey, not a destination. It takes time to regenerate soil and demands producers consider long term expectations, no matter the initial goal or objective.
To learn more about the benefits of soil health, cover crops, and other conservation seed options and management resources, visit www.soil1st.com.
About La Crosse Seed
La Crosse Seed has paired an unmatched portfolio of high quality forage, cover crop and turf seed with knowledgeable and experienced sales and support staff since 1947. Please call 800-356-7333 or visit www.lacrosseseed.com to learn more about its products and services or to find a regional sales manager.
If interested in learning more about cover crops from La Crosse Seeds, stop by Ken Bergler’s farm on April 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., located at 27876 Gilmore Ridge in Winona.