USDA: Plan Next Year's Cover Crops Now

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It is now winter and most folks aren’t thinking about planting. However, it is a good time to plan which fields will benefit from cover crops in the future. If you have a field that lacks residue from crop harvest this year, you have noticed any erosion and/or gullies, the field has troublesome weeds or the field is lacking in vigor, then maybe a winter cover crop will do the trick.

A well established winter cover crop will provide lots of biomass which turns into soil organic matter, adds nutrients for the following cash crop and can curtail troublesome pest.  Predominately, the reason farmers don’t plant cover a crop is due to a lack of planning and timing. Unless strategically planned ahead of time, cash crops are harvested too late for a cover crop to be planted.

Most cash crops have different varieties to choose from that allow early planting and/or early harvesting. An early crop harvest will allow many options for establishing cover crops. The range of seeding dates for establishing cover crops is August 15 thru October 15. There are many different cover crop varieties and mixes to choose from depending on what problem or concern exist in each field.

Cost share funds will be available in 2012 to help with cost of establishing cover crops. The funds will be available through the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). The purpose of this funding is to encourage farmers to use cover crops long term as a part of their cropping system.

Use of cover crops increase soil organic matter, improves infiltration, reduces soil erosion from rain impact and runoff, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides, increases habitat for beneficial insects and adds beauty to the countryside. Program guidelines prohibit harvesting cover crops for grain and applicants must adhere to specific seeding dates and rates. Signup deadline to be considered for 2012 is December 15, 2011, however, application are accepted on a continuous basis.

If you would like to know more about cover crops or you need someone to help you plan your cover crops for next year, please contact the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service located at 740 Old McMinnville Road in Woodbury or call 615-563-4321 ext. 3 or visit
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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