Hoosier Field Day Pushes Cover Crops – Annual Ryegrass – for Soil Health

From Hoosier Ag Today comes this article, about the value of cover crops on Midwest farmland. In particular, the field day spokesman, Hans Kok, said annual ryegrass has the great advantage of being able to uptake nitrogen left in the earth (from fertilizer deposited on crops earlier) and sequester that nitrogen over the winter for use by corn or soybean crops the next year.

On the Coulter farm just north of Parker City, farmers got to see a dramatic evidence of just how cover crops can improve soil health and raise yields. The Tri-County Soil Fertility Day, held Thursday, stressed the benefits of adding cover crops to a no-till cropping system. Hans Kok, with the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, told HAT that Indiana farmers need to start using cover crops to improve our state’s soil. He said over 100 years of intensive plowing has dramatically reduced the health of Indiana’s soil, “Cover crops and no-till are a way we can get our soils back to a much better state, just like they used to be.”

Kok says planting cover crops just before or after harvest can help retain nitrogen in the soil and increase organic matter, “Only about half of the fertilizer we put on our fields ends up in the corn crop. The rest is left in the field.” He said cover crops like annual rye grass can keep that nitrogen in the soil until the next growing season. Kok maintains that, every time you plow a field, you reduce the health and fertility of that soil.

He was able to show just how different cover crops can help dry soils in the spring, break up compaction, and improve soil fertility. By digging a pit, he and soil scientist Scot Haley were able to show how the roots of cover crops can break up compaction and help break down crop residue left on the surface. Greg Downing, from Cisco Seeds, had several test plots that demonstrated different examples of cover crops. They ranged from traditional crops like annual rye grass to more exotic crops like cereal rye, turnips, and radishes.

Kok said the improvement in crop yields and reduction in fertilizer costs can offset the extra costs of planting cover crops. Money is available from state and federal programs to help farms cover the cost of planting cover crops. For more details, contact your county SWCD office.

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