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Cover crops are an effective tool to improve soil health. Cover crops can reduce loss of excess nitrogen and phosphorus, reduce erosion, build up or recycle nutrients, assist with weed control and provide forage or grazing. However, implementing cover crops should not be taken lightly and requires lots of planning, adjusting and typically requires a total management shift and rethinking the entire cropping system.

As we discussed in a previous blog, when it comes to implementing cover crops, much depends on the risks a farmer is willing to take and the time they can dedicate to managing a cover crop. Implemented properly, cover crops are a great tool for farmers looking to improve soil health on their farms.

Below are a few things to consider when getting started with cover crops:

  • Set goals for the cover crop. Taking up excess nutrients, forage and breaking up compaction are just a few possible goals.
  • Consult the experts. Cover crops are not viable in all growing regions, but use the resources available to see if it can work on your farm. SHP Field Managers are eager to help implement new soil health practices.
  • Be patient. There is a learning curve with any change in farm practices.  Be flexible and prepared to make adjustments as necessary.
  • Tillage typically becomes less desirable unless strip tillage is being used, especially in corn and soybean cropping systems.
  • Scout your cover crop fields. If you are not already getting out there, make sure to check-in on these fields. Changing your farming system can bring new challenges as well as improvements in the field, so you will want to be out there to see changes when they happen.
  • Adjustments will potentially need to be made, including the timing of nutrient application and adjustments to the planter.
  • Talk to other farmers in the area that have experience with cover crops on their farm. Learn about what works well for them, and what has not worked as well. While each farm is unique, it is valuable to learn from peers.

To ensure success with cover crops establish goals, be detail oriented, be open to making adjustments, scout often and think about the cropping system as a whole when making decisions.

Learn more about cover crops by viewing our Soil Sessions webinar, Digging Into Cover Crops or reaching out to a field manager near you.

Lisa Kubik
Lisa Kubik
Lisa Kubik is a Field Manager for the Soil Health Partnership, covering eastern Iowa.