Benefits of Cover Crops

With fall harvest well underway, it is time to think about cover crops. Cover crops are herbaceous plants such as grasses, legumes, and forbs that are planted for seasonal cover. Cover crops prevent erosion by reducing the impactful forces of wind and rain. When soil particles become detached and transported, they can end up in our watersheds, leading to sedimentation of our rivers and lakes. The transported soil particle also leaves behind less fertile ground for future crops. Cover crops can replenish much needed nutrients to the soil if disked into the field; a process called green manure. To go even further, legumes fix nitrogen, making it readily available for the next year’s crop. Leaving at least 50% of the cover crop’s residue can act as mulch and increase available soil moisture. Furthermore, cover crops such as rye and buckwheat have allelopathic chemicals that suppress weed growth.

Planting cover crops can be done several ways. Cover crops can be planted after harvest is complete or inter-seeded during the growing season. Seeding options include aerial seeding, conventional tillage, broadcast seeding, frost-seeding, or drill seeding. The least invasive planting method will give you better soil health. No-till seeding decreases soil compaction increases soil organic matter, improves soil structure and decreases fuel cost.  The Conservation District has a 15 foot no-till drill available for rent at $10/acre. Call our conservation technician Jerry Kass at (231)757-3707 Ext. 110 for more details.