Conventional agriculture is susceptible to problems of soil erosion, reduced organic matter, and nutrient runoff, that affect not only that year’s yield but following years as well. Mining the soil for critical topsoil and nutrients year after year impacts a farms production value for decades into the future. Cover crops were used historically up until the 1950s to keep living vegetation on the field for as long as possible, which decreased soil erosion from both spring rains and wind and also kept nutrients on the field to sustain the soil microbial community. The Green Revolution kicked off huge advances in farm machinery and herbicides that quickly made cover crops obsolete as herbicides became the preferred way to control weeds and farm inputs became cheaper and easier to apply. However, old farm technology has become new again and cover crops have returned with a vengeance as farmers begin to suffer from tired soils that have been mined for decades.
Whiterock Conservancy began using cover crops in 2008 as a participant in a Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) research program. Since 2008, Whiterock has continued to scale up cover crop use and diversified cover crop seeding to better utilize nutrients from lower in the soil column. We continue to expand the program with the overarching goal of improving soil health to sustain yields into the future. Water quality is another benefit of cover crops and as proponents of more resilient and diverse waterways and we enjoy the contribution we are making to improve the health of Iowa’s waterways. We continue to seek out new cover crop mixes and seeding methods to meet our goals of minimizing soil erosion, increasing microbial activity, increasing water infiltration, and increasing nutrient retention on-field.
When in doubt, Don’t Farm Naked!
Plant Cover Crops: http://plantcovercrops.com/do-not-farm-naked/
Practical Farmers of Iowa – Cover Crops: http://practicalfarmers.org/member-priorities/cover-crops/
NRCS on cover crops: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHMCJSxQAgo