- Beth Tharp
Planting for the Future - Part II
Cover crops have been a staple on our farm for the last decade as we work to grow feed for our animals. These are grasses, brassicas, legumes and other plants that we seed in the fall after we have harvested our corn or soybeans and then terminated the following spring prior to the next year's crop. Although there is no short term payback for planting cover crops, we think it is a wise investment for the future of our soils, our farm and ultimately generations to come.
Traditionally cover crops are grown to reduce soil erosion by water or wind, but we have found there are many other benefits. Cover crops scavenge nitrogen from prior years crop or nitrogen naturally released by soil organic matter. They improve soil through root development and growth, provide carbon compounds feeding soil organisms and improve soil structure making the soil more permeable to air and water and allowing for better root development. When fixing tile lines we have seen cover crop roots as much as 4' deep.
We view cover crops as a long term investment in the future by improving soil health and increasing soil organic matter; ultimately increasing yield and stability of yield through weather extremes. Soil organic mater plays an important role in plant growth by holding nutrients and water. In fact it is estimated that in the Midwest, we have lost about half of the soil organic mater that soils had when European settlers first farmed these lands. Through using cover crops, we are increasing the levels of organic matter in our fields.
We seek to continue to manage our farm under the guidance of our four core values; Integrity, Stewardship, Relationships and Continuous Improvement. It is evident to us that cover crops are a good fit.