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Protect Drought Damaged Crop Fields with Cover Crops

Protect Drought Damaged Crop Fields with Cover Crops

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, Huron, SD, July 17, 2017– South Dakota agricultural producers in the trenches of a difficult drought may next be facing some issues with soil erosion.

Jason Miller, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation agronomist serving central South Dakota, said there’s still time for producers to get some cover crops to grow in their fields severely damaged by drought. And, he noted that may be hard to do if the ground is too dry.

“Each operation’s going to be different of how they handle risk,” Miller said. “Some operations are willing to spend the additional money to put seeds in the dry soil on the hope they get moisture. It’s surprising how much cover crops produce, even with limited summer moisture.”

He said a number of producers in central South Dakota are haying their small grain crops. Many are planning to go back to plant something to provide some ground cover. As they consider that, Miller noted that producers need to be aware of the herbicides they applied earlier in the year on that field. Specific herbicides may not allow for choosing a wide variety of species in a mix of cover crops. Warm-season grasses, like millet or sorghum-sudangrass, might be options to handle some of the herbicide residuals. “Producers need to be careful with residuals because of some of the herbicides designed for wheat,” explained Miller.

“Producers considering grazing should check the label because the herbicide residual may not be suitable for grazing,” Miller said. “Just be careful with those details.” Miller encourages producers to talk with their agronomist or the person who applied the chemical before planting anything into hayed small grains.

Miller said producers can put in a cover crop simply to keep erosion down until the next planting year. “For cover purposes, some people are planting a cover crop seed mixture for protection against wind erosion this fall and winter, or water erosion next spring,” he said. Besides drought conditions, some producers in central South Dakota were also hit with a frost at the end of June. Miller said low areas in some corn fields were damaged which may result in delayed maturity. “We have a number of farmers who have been thrown a curveball in addition to the drought,” Miller said.

Miller recommends operators plant the covers anytime now through mid-August. “We have time yet to get rain that will kick start the cover crops.” Farmers and ranchers can contact the NRCS for free help as they consider options for use of cover crops for their fields and for controlling erosion now and in the coming year.  

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