The season of cover crop planting is coming to a close. Did you get any cover crops out in your fields this year? Cover crops can be expensive, and many farmers would rather spend their money on other inputs like fertilizer, chemical, etc. This is a tough mentality to break. Benefits of implementing cover crops on your farm may not be seen as quickly as the benefits from an input application, but the long term benefits of cover crops are instrumental in keeping your soil healthy. Here are some of the benefits that implementing cover crops on your farm can do for you.
Keeping armor on the soil
Keeping a cover crop on your soil during the winter months will keep your soil armored, reducing the chances of both water and wind erosion from taking place on your farm. Once topsoil has left the field, it’s gone forever. Topsoil takes years to accumulate, so keeping it in its place is critical for your soil health. Having a cover crop growing out in your fields can help with that.
Storing leftover nutrients
Certain cover crops hold excess nutrients left in the soil from this year’s crop. This is a major benefit of cover crops. Without a living plant in the soil, excess nutrients have no place to be up-taken, so they often times flow with ground water and leave your farm. Think of all of the excess nutrients that you could be holding onto just through putting out a cover crop! Fertilizer isn’t cheap, and cover crops can help to make that fertilizer work more efficiently for you.
Increasing water-holding capacity and water infiltration
Cover crops increase soil organic matter. Increasing your soil organic matter can help in soil aggregation, which improves water-holding capacity and water infiltration in the soil. The living root in the soil from cover crops also helps with water-holding capacity and water infiltration while reducing compaction.
The majority of the midwest is based off of the corn/soybean system, largely because there isn’t truly a viable option for a third or fourth cash crop. Having only two species in your rotation is not ideal for microbial communities. Different types of microbes have an “appetite” for different types of root exudates from different plants, just like you and I have different tastes in food. So, implementing diversity through planting cover crops allows for different types of microbes to thrive where they may not have with just a steady diet of corn and soybeans.
These are just a few of the benefits that you could see from implementing cover crops on your farm. If you planted a cover crop this year, how did this planting season go for you? Did you try anything new? Did you stick with the old, tried and true covers that you’ve been seeding for years? Whatever this season looked like for you, it always helps to assign data to your practices to truly know what’s working and what isn’t on your farm. The team at Continuum Ag would love to help you with your data needs in actually seeing what your cover crop is doing for you. Because after all, you cant manage what you don’t measure!