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Water Management Using Cover Crops

There are several ways that farmers can manage risks, whether it be crop insurance, spraying fungicide, or using other forms of pest management. It is difficult to prevent against damage by nature, farmers fight nature day in and day out, year to year. However, there is data that proves cover crops could be a perfectly imperfect solution to mitigate against drought, pests, weeds and disease. Without any real hard data to prove our findings we want to share with you some observations on how cover crops can conserve soil moisture. While Sean was flying the drone, I took time to walk in nearby bean fields and check out how the crop was progressing during the late summer. What he found was amazing but not surprising. Two farms separated only by a fence, similar soil type, and rainfall but with vastly different management styles.

Farm A, conventional and reduced tillage, corn bean rotation

Farm B, No till (20+ years), cover crops (less than 5 years), continuous soybeans

Both farms have random tile to help dry out wet areas and were planted "about the same time".

Farm A: 36 pods per plant average

Farm B: 77 pods per plant average.

Farm B was noticeably healthier, soybeans were consistently green even in the high spots. Farm A was showing signs of drought stress, beans were dropping leaves in the high ground and some were wilting. Take a look at what we found to see for yourself.

Farm B's cover crop is showing its strength as an excellent tool for water management. Cereal grains like rye before soybeans help remove excess water from the soil profile, allowing young beans to flourish in a drier environment. As the season progresses, terminated rye will suppress weeds and hold back valuable moisture for the late summer months when most other conventional till fields are struggling.

Not only can a farmer mitigate the effects of rain (or lack thereof) on his farm by using cover crops, they have also proven to be a great tool to help cut down on other costs. Scavenging nutrients, building organic matter, and providing a home to beneficial insects are just a few benefits of many that cover crops bring to the table.

As always, think before you buy, have a plan, and consult different resources before making a decision.

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