Cover crops are used for many reasons and can greatly improve your soil. They can greatly reduce weeds, improve soil help build, improving soil fertility and quality while controlling diseases and pests, and promoting biodiversity as well as reducing soil erosion.
How Cover Crops Reduce Soil Erosion:
Vegetation plays a vital role in controlling erosion by:
Soil type, depth, water-holding capacity, and fertility all affect plant growth. Depending on the crop you intend on planting you can increase fertility by growing legumes and incorporating them at the proper time in order to provide nitrogen.
If you have clay or if water penetration is poor in your soil, cover crops with fibrous root systems, such as cereals, can be grown to improve the physical structure of the soil.
Four classes of cover crops:
Planting cover crops:
Plant your cover crop strategically in the fall so that in will grow faster than the weeds in the spring. Maximum effects are achieved by planting early in the fall or in the late summer into a prepared seedbed followed by an irrigation to increase germination, early growth, and soil cover.
Regardless of the cover crop species selected, soil preparation is relatively standard. Preparing a well granulated, soft, friable, and moist seedbed generally works well for virtually any cover crop species.
Cover crop seed can be planted either with a drill or a broadcast seeder. Drills place the seed with much more precision than broadcast seeders but either can be used.
Watering after seeding helps ensure successful germination and establishment of the crop. Once germinated, many cover crop species can survive drought fairly well.
Mowing the cover crop can actually improve cover crop establishment and performance. Mowing removes taller weeds that can shade the cover crop. Mowing also encourages the growth of shoots from the crown of the plant, spreading, and flowering. Many cover crop species are pasture forages which respond well to grazing.
No-Till versus Till:
Whether to till or not is an important consideration while choosing a cover crop strategy. Preventing soil erosion and saving energy are two benefits to no-till management strategy. Another benefit is firm footing in wet weather, which can make a tremendous difference, especially if your area receives a high volume of rains. Growers also often report fewer insect and mite pest problems in no-till areas.
What is no till? No-till planting refers to the planting of primary crops into actively growing cover crops. This practice can be used when planting a grain crop. The other type of no-till involves planting into a bed where the cover crop was killed 2 or 3 weeks before planting time.
Annual Cover Crops Green manures:
Green manure cover crops are typically planted from roughly September to early December or into the spring. They consist of winter annual grasses, legumes, or flowering plants. If the green manure is used to add nitrogen, legumes are used alone or in combination with non-legumes, usually cereals. These plants store nitrogen in their roots and are tilled/mulched into the soil to decompose and add nutrients to the soil.
How much nitrogen?
Research indicates that legume cover crops can fix from 50 to 200 pounds per planted acre of nitrogen. The amount of fixation depends on the cover crop species, soil pH, soil temperature, soil moisture, soil nitrogen status, and inoculation.
Although invisible to the naked eye, soil microorganisms are an important part your soil, and are a potentially valuable asset to your next harvest. The value lies in the role they play in the decomposition of organic matter, improvement of soil structure, cycling of nutrients, and as a living reservoir of nutrients. The microbial community is most beneficial to the grower when it is diverse, abundant, and active. Microbial populations play active and passive roles in soil fertility and should be taken into consideration to improve soil health.
At the end of the day we could go on and on about cover crops and the numerous benefits to planting them. There is no universal cover crop for all agricultural operations. The choice of cover crop systems depends largely on the benefits you hope to gain from the cover crop. Cover crops should be chosen for their suitability for a production system and the style of farming that the manager wishes to use. The cover crop’s physical stature, water use, and ease of establishment/maintenance are only a few reasons why they should be chosen carefully. That being said, there are a tremendous amount of cover crops to choose from. Start small and experiment to determine which type will most benefit you.
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The fall/spring equinox is almost here and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere that signals that winter will be here soon. Winter brings a lot of challenges for you and your herd. Here are 7 ways to get ready for old man winter.
1.) Test feed supply for adequate protein and nutrients.
The energy needs of your herd change during the winter. They grow a long coat, store fat as well as their mothering needs. Make sure they have adequate feed and salt is vital to their health this winter.
2.) Bedding or rotation
If you're keeping your cattle confined this winter it's time to stock up on bedding but you can also do a daily pasture rotation. This gives them a new place to bed down each day away from the mud, manure and ice. Plan your winter grazing map now.
3.) Check your shelters
Staying dry is key to staying warm. Create shelters from the wind and cold. The more your herd shivers the more calories they burn. The more stress they feel the less they will thrive. Now is a great time to look into this on your pastures.
4.) Water access
Your herd will need extra water for the coat their growing, the extra feed they're digesting and healthy rumen activity. Often they won't want to leave their shelter to get a drink. So, it's vital that you make this easy for them during the winter.
5.) Get yourself ready to be out in the cold
Winter brings a time of frozen buckets, cold, slippery and wet conditions. Get your equipment and ranch prepared for what you will need before you need it.
6.) Check in on your herd now
Make sure your herd goes into the winter with a healthy BCS. Look for optimal body scores of 5-6.
7.) Stock up on feed.
Feed requirements go up 10%-15% in the winter. Be prepared to feed your herd the nutrients to keep up their energy and keep them healthy this winter.
Winter can be a tough time. Good preparation will make your winter a little easier this year. What else do you think is vital during this time?