Cover Crops Exceed 15 Million Acres, Terminate Them In Time

Cover Crop ( Sonja Begemann )

Farmers are striving to increase their soil health. As farmers sprint toward healthy soils, cover crops are often critical, so much so that farmers increased cover crop acres nationally by 50% to 15.4 million acres in 2017.

“In too many places our soils have become degraded, and we really need to reverse that trend and rebuild the health of our soils going forward,” said Steve Groff, a Pennsylvania farmer in a recent Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) news release. “Cover crops are one of the most effective tools we have to restore soil carbon and regenerate our soils.”

A survey by the Conservation Technology and Information Center showed soybean yields increased by 11.6% with cover crops and corn yields increased by 9.6% during the 2012 drought, when compared with fields without use of cover crops.

Agencies and private companies are investing in soil health, too, and encouraging farmers nationwide to do the same. SARE recognizes USDA NRCS, the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership, other conservation and farm organizations and ag media for education efforts over the past five years. Some of these organizations (Soil Health Partnership and Soil Health Institute, for example) are supported by industry donations.

Tackle cover crop termination for best planting results. Because there is more than one way to get the job done, be sure to consider your termination options. The three methods used for termination are herbicide, tillage or rolling/crimping, according to Iowa State University. Here are some additional considerations.

  • Herbicides: consider cover crop type and growth stage. Some species are easier to kill than others. Winter wheat, annual ryegrass and red clover can be more difficult to control with herbicides.
  • Tillage: It can effectively kill the cover crop and integrate the biomass into soils while preparing the seedbed. USDA NRCS does caution farmers who are considering this method as it could lead to compaction in wet conditions.
  • Crimping/rolling: These practices eliminate the risk of shading from cover crops. However, not every cover crop is a good candidate for crimping or rolling. Cereal rye (after pollen shed), hairy vetch (at full bloom), barley and triticale are good for rolling. Cover crop mixes aren’t always the best candidates because the various species are at different growth stages.