Skip

News Release

Farmers Rediscover Cover: Old Practice Taking Root With New Pioneers

COLUMBIA, MO – It’s something old and something new. It’s something borrowed and something…well, green.

Cover cropping, a traditional conservation practice considered old-fashioned by many in modern agriculture, is being “borrowed” and used in new ways by innovative farmers to improve their soil’s health, and with it, the health of their businesses’ bottom lines.

“Today’s agricultural pioneers have figured out how to make cover crops work on their farms with some impressive results,” says Jodie Reisner, state conservation agronomist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Columbia. “Innovation is the key to maximizing the effective use of covers. Everyone’s situation is different; cover crops aren’t a ‘one size fits all’ practice that can be done the same way on every farm.”

Reisner says that while the basic principles of cover crops may stay the same, the best species mixes, establishment methods and termination methods for an agricultural operation can vary widely with respect to objectives, location, weather conditions, crops, soil types, and more.

“Before World War II, most farmers included forage legumes like alfalfa and red clover in crop rotations ahead of nitrogen-demanding crops like corn. Forage grasses and small grains were also commonly used to curb soil erosion,” she says.

Over the last five years, interest in cover crops has begun to surge again, driven by many interacting factors, including increasing input costs, cover crop cost-share programs, new GPS-guidance technologies that facilitate new ways of using cover crops, and the arrival of oilseed (tillage) radishes as a novel cover crop with few residue management challenges.

“It’s going to take some time and effort for cover crops to make a positive environmental impact beyond individual farms,” says Karen Brinkman, acting state conservationist in Missouri.  “As more farmers figure out how to effectively plant and manage cover crops, the practice will become more mainstream. Once that happens, the positive impact that cover crops will have on soil health and the environment could be huge.”  

Through conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NRCS is working to help farmers adapt those practices to their farms.

“We’re ramping up our efforts here in Missouri to ensure that we can assist producers who are interested in implementing systems that improve soil health,” Brinkman says. “Cover crop management today isn’t just a revisiting of old practices abandoned by the fathers and grandfathers of today’s farmers. Innovative, large-scale grain farmers have started integrating cover crops into their production systems in ways that were never even considered before.”

Using cover crops in soil health management systems offers a variety of on-farm benefits, including building organic matter, increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity, and suppressing pests, diseases and weeds. And the benefits of improved soil health extend beyond the farm.

“Soils that allow good infiltration and have good water-holding capacity reduce runoff that causes flooding. Improved infiltration also keeps nutrients and sediment from being carried off-site into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams,” Reisner says.COLUMBIA, MO – It’s something old and something new. It’s something borrowed and something…well, green.

Cover cropping, a traditional conservation practice considered old-fashioned by many in modern agriculture, is being “borrowed” and used in new ways by innovative farmers to improve their soil’s health, and with it, the health of their businesses’ bottom lines.

“Today’s agricultural pioneers have figured out how to make cover crops work on their farms with some impressive results,” says Jodie Reisner, state conservation agronomist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Columbia. “Innovation is the key to maximizing the effective use of covers. Everyone’s situation is different; cover crops aren’t a ‘one size fits all’ practice that can be done the same way on every farm.”

Reisner says that while the basic principles of cover crops may stay the same, the best species mixes, establishment methods and termination methods for an agricultural operation can vary widely with respect to objectives, location, weather conditions, crops, soil types, and more.

“Before World War II, most farmers included forage legumes like alfalfa and red clover in crop rotations ahead of nitrogen-demanding crops like corn. Forage grasses and small grains were also commonly used to curb soil erosion,” she says.

Over the last five years, interest in cover crops has begun to surge again, driven by many interacting factors, including increasing input costs, cover crop cost-share programs, new GPS-guidance technologies that facilitate new ways of using cover crops, and the arrival of oilseed (tillage) radishes as a novel cover crop with few residue management challenges.

“It’s going to take some time and effort for cover crops to make a positive environmental impact beyond individual farms,” says Karen Brinkman, acting state conservationist in Missouri.  “As more farmers figure out how to effectively plant and manage cover crops, the practice will become more mainstream. Once that happens, the positive impact that cover crops will have on soil health and the environment could be huge.”  

Through conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, NRCS is working to help farmers adapt those practices to their farms.

“We’re ramping up our efforts here in Missouri to ensure that we can assist producers who are interested in implementing systems that improve soil health,” Brinkman says. “Cover crop management today isn’t just a revisiting of old practices abandoned by the fathers and grandfathers of today’s farmers. Innovative, large-scale grain farmers have started integrating cover crops into their production systems in ways that were never even considered before.”

Using cover crops in soil health management systems offers a variety of on-farm benefits, including building organic matter, increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity, and suppressing pests, diseases and weeds. And the benefits of improved soil health extend beyond the farm.

“Soils that allow good infiltration and have good water-holding capacity reduce runoff that causes flooding. Improved infiltration also keeps nutrients and sediment from being carried off-site into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams,” Reisner says.

 

 Tweet

< Back to News...