Cover Crops: A Underrated Necessity

The number of cover-crop acres planted in the U.S. continues to rise. 2013 USDA National Ag Statistics Survey (NASS) data suggests 10.3 million acres of cover crops were planted in 2012, a significant increase over the previous yea.  Current trends continue to suggest growth in cover-crop , with predictions of 40 million acres planted by 2020.

Why have cover crops become so important in agriculture?

Increasing cover-crop acreage is the the result of many factors, most notably:

  • Higher land values
  • Increased awareness in nutrient management and water quality
  • Upswing in environmental awareness and protection
  • Availability of government funding
  • Changes in weather patterns

In addition, retailers are taking more steps to ensure their food is safe and produced in a sustainable manner including cash crops.

Will the increase in importance continue?

Recently, there have been significant increases in attention given to water quality initiatives in the U.S. This attention includes nutrient reduction strategies across the country and the recent Clean Water Rule release (Clean Water Act in the 2014 Farm Bill). For example, all 12 states along the Mississippi River have drafted nutrient reduction strategies. Cover crops are a major factor on all of these initiatives.

Why are cover crops beneficial?

The benefits of cover crops are numerous. Reducing erosion, sequestering nutrients, building organic matter and soil tilth, and improving nutrient cycling are just a few. They also suppress weeds, insects and pests and break up soil hard-pan layers. They increase soil moisture by converting energy to organic matter, which reduces runoff and evaporation by increasing soil moisture capacity.

How do cover crops work? 

Cover crops (and their roots) keep the microbials that restore organic matter and nutrient levels in the soil active for a longer period of time. This is especially important when soil is covered for the entire season. With live roots in the soil, important fungus like Mycorrhizae hyphae help build aggregate stability, which leads to better soil structure. Live roots start the process of building soil aggregates or soil peds, which leads to better soil structure, which leads to better movement of air, water, and nutrients.

How Thresher can help

Thresher offers cover crop mixes specially formulated for the region and for the traditional small grain/potato rotation. The mixes offered (through a partnership with La Crosse Seed) include species that offer multiple benefits, both in the short term and with an eye towards improving soil health for years to come. These cover-crop mixes advance the opportunity for growers to improve soil structure and resilience, enhance nutrient availability and suppress harmful pests while slowing the effects of erosion and soil compaction that often result from today’s farming practices. Read more about our cover crop mixes here.

Related story from an industry expert: 

Screening Room: Videos that help growers succeed and stay informed

What you need to know about Fusarium head blight disease and how to manage it.

https://vimeo.com/152646122

Farming Best Practices:  Everything from crop rotation to scouting.

http://connect.cals.uidaho.edu/p6h8p1vspwm/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

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