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Adopting Cover Crops on Your Farm

With cover crops becoming more mainstream many companies are beginning to sell seed mixes and specialized planting equipment for seeding cover crops. It is important to remember that they all companies have a goal, to turn a profit. I urge any producer interested in adopting new practices to start small and easy first. Find a no till drill and start with a single species mix, do some side by side trials and see how you like it. Producers who have a lot invested in their first try and fail are less likely to try cover crops again. Another important reminder is cover crops are not going to be the "silver bullet" that saves your farming operation. Cover crops are a compliment to existing no till systems that need an extra competitive edge to stimulate soil biology and build organic matter. After a few tries you can then to begin building your portfolio, try out different blends, different application methods.

Where do I start

1. For beginners, try a cereal crop such as rye, oats, or wheat for weed suppression and fast building of organic matter. Broadcast on with a 3pt spreader, fertilizer spreader or seed with a no till drill. For better emergence broadcast seeds can be incorporated with a turbo till set on lightest angle setting.

2. Further experienced growers should consider legumes, brassica, sunflowers, and other types of seeds. Diversifying covers brings multiple root types to penetrate different depths of soil compaction and change soil texture. For best results plant a fibrous root with 2 different length taproots.

3. Late stage cover crop adopters should consider inter-seeding equipment. Side dress bars modified to seed into a standing crop. Broadcast spreaders mounted on hi-boy sprayers are another option. Aerial seeding can be done if a crop producer chooses to not purchase or modify existing farm equipment.

Final Considerations

Remember, cover crops are not the silver bullet to save your farm, cover crops are a great compliment to no till operations and livestock grazing systems. Seed germination depends on soil moisture, inter seeded covers should be done within 10 days of a 1" - 2" rainfall in normal weather conditions. Some crops will winter kill and others will survive the winter, remember this when thinking of when you are going to plant. Again, I encourage everyone to give it a shot and see the results. If you have any question about possible farm bill programs that may provide funding for cover crops, questions about seed selection, or any other cover crop benefits, please call Butler SWCD at 513-887-3720


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