More farmers are turning to cover crops Managing the challenges of this approach will help make it a success

More farmers are turning to cover crops. Managing the challenges of this approach will help make it a success.

Are cover crops reaching a tipping point?

There's science behind the adoption of new technology and practices, the challenge is reaching critical mass. Cover crops may be getting close.

Cover crops. It's almost as if it's just part of the art of farming these days. While it's true that not everyone uses the practice, it's getting more attention every day. There are management issues associated with the use of cover crops, yet producers are finding ways around those issues to succeed.

The first issue is planting timing. The aim is to get that over-wintering cover crop up and established before a freeze and dormancy. Growers are using everything from flying it on to modifying front-mount sprayers to crop seed into a standing crop so the cover is growing as the combine rolls through.

Depending on harvest timing, and fall weather, running a drill or planter behind the combine is a possibility – especially if you crop farther south where later freezes are more likely. Cover crop veterans have each worked out their own approaches.

The second challenge is to raise a cover crop that you can get rid of before you plant. A cover crop you can't kill or use ahead of planting can be a challenge. There are different approaches here. At the Purdue Animal Research Farm near West Lafayette, Ind., Jeff Fields, uses cereal rye as a winter cover, but instead of using a burndown come spring, he mows and bales the crop for feed. His beef and dairy researchers like the feed variety and use the product.

And since he's cut it short and plants into it soon after, he hasn't had to burn it down. And he gets another feed source for that cover crop investment.

Another approach is to plant a crop that doesn't survive frost – like oats – but those have to be well established before the frost. In that case, you get the organic matter and don't have the control worry.

The key is that it appears that cover crops are gaining plenty of popularity. It's a hot topic for winter meetings, and the subject of field days. The need to restore organic matter to soils, boost soil health and make a no-till program even more successful is driving more producers to look at this approach. Has it, however, reached a tipping point?

That's the magic percentage number where a technology or a management practice, has so many people using it that suddenly everyone is. For example, the adoption of Roundup Ready crops reached a tipping point – above 18% use by its third year, and in the fourth year jumped tremendously.

We don't know the percentage of farmers using a cover crop, but given the rising discussion of the topic in ag media, and the rising number of farmers discussing the practice, it's clear the approach may be gaining greater acceptance as the next big thing.

This week two Penton Ag sister publications published cover crop stories, check these stories out for more information, and insight, into success with the practice.

First up is a Dakota Farmer story where a Jamestown, N.D., farmer uses a basic approach to selecting cover crops, and it appears to be working for him. His idea: he selects cover crops based on how easy they will be to control in the grain crop the next year. Check out the Dakota Farmer report.

In Nebraska Farmer, they report on the art of managing cover crops, offering insight into successful ways to bring cover crops into an operation. And they talk about a term you may be hearing more about – regenerative agriculture. Check out the Nebraska Farmer report.

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