Veteran cover crop farmer creates list of top considerations04/25/2018 | Crop Production Research, Soil Health, Water Quality, Soybean News, Weed Issues
By Joseph L. Murphy, Senior Communications Manager
Farmers rely on science for many aspects of their farming operations. The realization that cover crops are more of an art than a science led a northeast Iowa farmer to create a top 20 list of tips.
Kevin Glanz, an Iowa Soybean Association member from Manchester, has been an unabashed fan of cover crops since 2009. During that time, Glanz has found success and failure with the conservation tool.
To build on the success and erase the failures, he decided to write down principal points he had learned. What started as a point or two on a piece of paper grew to a Top 10 list and then a Top 20 list, and he's not so sure he's done yet. He may still add terms like sun spills – losing the energy of the sun over bare fields. And having naked fields that are without cover crops during the winter months.
"Cover crops are like a fine wine. They just get better with age," Glanz said. "You have to let the cover crop work for you but it can pay for itself."
Utilizing no-till and cover crops for weed suppression, he found savings in fuel cost that totaled 20 gallons of diesel per acre. Glanz has utilized the fuel savings and a lower maintenance bill to pay for the cost of his cover crops.
"When I drive down the road I'm window farming," he said. "I want my fields to look as good as any other field and I think I'm achieving that with cover crops and no-till."
Top 20 tips for better cover croppers
- Farmers are not experts in agronomy, but you are an expert on your farm.
- Mother Nature does not like to be bare, she will cover and protect herself with some form of growth.
- A volunteer green cover of growth is in no way, shape or form equal to a selected, grown and managed cover crop.
- Your first tillage pass in the spring is the most detrimental to the future of your growing crop.
- If you till your cover crop in the spring, you have zeroed out most of the benefits of the practice.
- If you work your fields to a garden- like state, you have worked all the life out of them. In the spring, a black field is a "dead field.”
- Cover crops may not be for everyone, but everyone has an area, field or farm that would benefit from a cover crop practice.
- It is as exciting to watch your cover crops emerge in the fall as watching your primary crops emerge in the spring.
- When planning a cover crop practice, start with your end goal. This will dictate what your start will be.
- When developing and starting a cover crop practice, dot your i's and cross your t's and have a plan B...for backup.
- If a cover crop practice doesn't work as planned, it is not the cover crop’s fault. LEARN FROM IT!
- Earthworms have a higher calling than fishing, they are your greatest asset in your fields. Worms work for you 24-7 enhancing your soils.
- When you stand in your field, there are more species of life below your feet than above your feet.
- Your neighbors ARE watching. They are as interested in your cover crop experience as you are. From successes to failures, they are watching.
- Beauty is only skin-deep. What you see of your cover crop above ground is only a small fraction of the growth and benefits going on below ground.
- Do your homework. Start simple, find out what works for you, find your comfort level and expand from there.
- Farmers are science-based decisionmakers. Cover cropping is more of an art, not a science. This practice does not work the same every year, you build knowledge from each of your past years' experience. The sooner you start, the sooner you start learning.
- Terminate your cover crop before planting. You will sleep better knowing your cover crop is dying and your primary crop is growing.
- Soil health and water quality are going to be the two most- used catch phrases you will hear for the next five to 10 years.
- Your soil is your greatest asset. Respect it, care for it and build it with everything you have. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
Joseph L. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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