Excessive rainfall and prolonged ponding conditions this spring have resulted in many fields remaining unplanted to corn or soybeans this season in some areas of the country. These “prevented planting” acres, while unfortunate for this year’s production, should be managed in ways to prevent further soil degradation and to increase soil productivity for next year, according to Eileen Kladivko, Agronomy Department, Purdue University and Barry Fisher, Indiana NRCS.
Cover crops are an excellent option for producers to consider for protecting their soil and increasing productive capacity for succeeding years. There definitely are benefits of growing cover crops compared to leaving the soil bare and fallow.
An article by Kladivko and Fisher explains the value of cover crops in this type of situation and provides guidance on selecting and seeding cover crops for prevented planting acres.
Producers are advised to check with FSA and their crop insurance agent about harvest or grazing restrictions for cover crops.
The authors warn that prolonged and excessive rainfall and ponding can cause soil aggregates to break down, especially near the soil surface. Flooding and erosion remove valuable topsoil and all the nutrients, organic matter and soil organisms it contains. When these fields finally dry out, the surface becomes hard and crusted and is prone to further erosion by water or wind. If tillage is performed to control weeds and the soil is left bare, soil organic matter declines and nutrients can be lost through leaching, even on fields not subject to water erosion.
“To rebuild lost productive capacity and improve soil health, growing a cover crop for the remainder of the season is crucial. In fact, having something green and growing during all non-frozen times of the year is a key concept for improving soil health, decreasing nitrate leaching to drainage waters, and improving water quality,” the authors wrote.
They conclude by explaining that cover crops can be an excellent management tool to improve soil productivity under any conditions but especially on prevented planting acres.
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