Cover cropping continues to grow in popularity and in acreage simply because it builds soil quality, improves yields and adds to profits.
That mother nature doesn’t always cooperate hasn’t diminished the appetite for producers seeking to get on the most popular new farming trend in a half century.
In a presentation a couple years ago, cover crop pioneer Mike Plumer, showed the reasons why cover crops are increasingly important as a farm management tool, particularly in the Midwest. Mono-culture crops have starved the soil of nutrients while sending immense quantities of soil into nearby waterways, eventually contributing to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the Earth’s largest known dead zones due to heavy pollution from farm runoff into the Mississippi river.
Beginning in 1995, the Oregon Ryegrass Commission, working with Plumer and a handfull of farmers, began to experiment with annual ryegrass in barren cornfields over winter. Since then, Oregon growers have created more winter hardy annual ryegrass grass varieties, as well as finding other cover crops, like radish and crimson clover.
Though the percentage of farm acreage in the Midwest committed to cover crops is still below 10 percent, it’s impressive that cover crops now cover millions of acres of corn and soybean acres, building soil quality, preventing erosion and improving production yields.
This past fall, seed dealers and distributors were ready. But the wet conditions and late harvest prevented some from getting the fields planted, according to Dan Towery, another cover crop consultant and colleague of Plumer.
For those times, farmers are increasingly going to new methods of planting cover crops: flown onto standing crops late in the season, for example, or broadcast with modified high-clearance sprayers equipped with seeders. Still others are trying a novel approach called interseeding, where annual ryegrass is planted in the SPRINGTIME, rather than the fall. Click here to find out more about that program.