You can’t pick up a farm magazine or read a website, including this one, without hearing about cover crops and soil health. But you’re still just not sold on the idea of spending money to throw seed on the ground this fall.
WHO DOESN’T LIKE A GOOD GULLY? If this hillside isn’t seeded in a cover crop this fall, it will continue to erode. The only person who likes gullies is the farmer who gets the topsoil that washes out.
Here are five arguments you can use to explain to your neighbors why you’re staying away from cover crops.
If cover crops were so good, my grandpa would have used them 50 years ago. Guess what? Odds are reasonably good that Grandfather did use cover crops. And he likely included a hay or meadow crop in his three- or four-year rotation. Prairie Farmer articles dating back to the '50s talk about planting either wheat or legumes as cover crops to protect the soil over winter. Many times the crop was plowed under as "green manure" the next spring. That’s because Grandpa knew about cover crops, but he hadn’t heard of no-till yet.
I am allergic to bee stings, and I don’t want to get stung! Die-hard cover-croppers figured out how to take out other cover crop species and let crimson clover grow. The results, especially this year, were beautiful fields of red blooms from crimson clover before planting. Roger Wenning and his son, Nick, counted an astronomical number of bees in a small area of clover. As far as we know, they didn’t get stung by the pollinators.
I don’t lose soil over the winter, so why do I need to keep it covered? Are you sure? Odds are your neighbor across the fence in the direction your water flows is pretty pleased that you leave the soil bare. He gets free topsoil every time it rains. And even if your field is flat, he gets free topsoil every time the wind blows during winter.
My son asks me to help dig his 4-H corn plants, and shallower roots mean less digging. That’s true. It’s possible you can’t dig too far because you have worked the soil wet at some time. There may be compacted layers that limit root growth and cause roots to go sideways. The plants your son exhibits at the fair will likely look like they have pancakes for roots. One young lady, Maddy Kerr, exhibited three corn plants at the Franklin County 4-H Fair this summer that just happened to come from a field where her dad planted cereal rye. Some of the corn roots were 18 inches long. She said her dad didn't complain, though, because it wasn’t hard work to dig that deep in the field.
I won’t be able to kill that annual ryegrass next spring, and cereal rye will get too tall. The most avid cover crop enthusiast will tell you killing annual ryegrass means following a pretty strict set of guidelines. Do that and it will die in most cases. Cereal rye did get taller than some liked this spring before it could be terminated. Think of it this way: Has marestail ever escaped control? How many years out of the last five have you been satisfied with marestail control in soybeans? Not everything works perfectly every time. And by the way, no-tillers we talk to insist cereal rye pays for itself in marestail suppression alone.