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Critical Area Plantings

After a long, wet winter the scars on the landscape are difficult to ignore. Torrential rains are becoming more widespread across the Midwest; heavy storms deliver 3-5" of rainfall in a 24 hour period and its effects can be seen all around the county. From urban residents dealing with stormwater issues to rural residents concerns about stream erosion and field erosion, these unusual rain events are becoming more frequent and causing damage to property. One of the ways farmers can deal with the effects of changing weather patterns is to do a Critical Area Planting (CAP).

CAPs are an easy way to plant a cover crop in the areas affected by water runoff. In most situations these could be areas where water rushes off a field and causes erosion, but may not be severe enough to warrant a grassed waterway. CAPs can be planted using cool season grasses like wheat, barley, or rye and should be drilled in place for the best results and to prevent seed from washing away with the soil. Oftentimes, erosion is far worse in fields that have been planted with soybeans or that were fall tilled.

Butler SWCD recommends using a no till drill to lightly incorporate your cover crop of choice into these areas. Some things to consider when selecting a cover crop are cost, planting date, and the severity of erosion. Cover crops such as wheat and barley have difficulty germinating if planted late in the season and oftentimes don't get as expansive a root system as rye. Rye is a hardier grass that can be planted in a longer window of time than barley or wheat. Take a look at the following photos where this farmer chose to use wheat planted with a no till drill in areas that are prone to washing. It is easy to see how effective CAPs are in reducing erosion when comparing to other portions of the field. CAPs are an approved and recommended best management practice that are often the gateway to farmers trying whole field cover cropping, and are an easy way to "get your feet wet" when it comes to the utilization of cover cropping on your property.


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