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A recent survey of farmers by the Conservation Technology Information Center found that cover crops boosted corn yields by 9.6% during the drought year of 2012, and soybean yields by 11.6%. That’s compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops.
However, cover crops can also lower cash crop yields if not managed correctly, warns Hans Kok, Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, Indiana. In a dry spring, the cover crop may use up valuable soil moisture that the cash crop needs, says Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin corn agronomist.
That’s why beginners should start small, Kok says. Instead of planting an entire field of cover crops, he suggests that first-timers put in a few strips at least as wide as the combine. “The combine yield monitor will show you if there is a yield difference.”
Cover crops' roots anchor the soil and nutrients when other crops aren't there to do the job. This is cereal rye.
Are you thinking about trying a cover crop next fall? It’s never too early to plan, and secure your seed supply. Start planning now, says Nick Bowers, a farmer and cover-crop seed dealer from Harrisburg, Ore. “Be very informed before you start. Talk to experienced cover croppers. Do your homework.”
Beginner Jim Zoss, Roanoke, Ill., tried covers for the first time in 2012. His biggest concerns were “getting a cover crop planted in time in the fall and killed in time in the spring.” His advice for first-timers: “Budget extra time for management.”