Those with a few years experience with cover crops and no-till agriculture have come to expect there may be an occasional year when the results aren’t as terrific. It’s the long term picture that counts, according to Nick Bowers, a partner in Oregon-based KB Seed Solutions, producer of KB Royal annual ryegrass.
“There are newer guys who are tempted to give up after a disappointing year, where the cover crop stand gets winter-killed,” he said. “But those who’ve seen years of improved soil conditions and harvest increases are convinced of the value of cover cropping each year.”
Nick said he worked last year with a Minnesota farmer who did a side-by-side comparison: one field with no-till only and the other with no-till and annual ryegrass as a cover crop. “The soil temperature where annual ryegrass grew was an average 7 degrees warmer than soil with none,” he said.
He said the cover crop acreage also provided a better environment for planting into. “The soil was fluffier this spring and that allowed for less down-pressure on the planter. So, it was easier for the tractor to plant corn, and that saves on fuel.”
Some producers will always fight change, Nick added. “But those who pay attention to profit and to changes in management practices will end up better off.”
“You can always get more bushels of corn by adding nitrogen, but at some point there is no positive return on your investment. Using a cover crop such as annual ryegrass, you can become more efficient with your inputs. The goal should not be to produce as many bushels as possible, but to have the maximum return of investment per acre.”