Importance of cover crops


rural Protivin - Farming has changed over the years, and not just the size of the tractors. 
There are whole new concepts out there that many farmers are embracing to help them make more money and to preserve the quality of the land and soil, even if it doesn’t directly benefit them.
A group of about 20 individuals, farmers, city folk and just the curious attended a cover crop day at the Norman Borlaug farm to learn about some of those practices.
Neil Sass of NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) gave a very seeing-is-believing presentation on soil health. 
He said, “Norman Borlaug saw problems with people being hungry, and he taught people to farm. Recently we’ve been seeing problems with soil.”
He explained there are five key ways to improve soil health.
1. Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil. This is basically rotating crops, the more rotation the better.
2. Disturb the soil as little as possible. He alluded to using no-till practices.
3. Keep plants growing through the year. This involves cover crops.
4. Cover the soil as much as possible. Also involves cover crops.
5. Incorporate animals into your system.
Sass gave a hands-on presentation, showing dirt from his field, where he puts the five suggestions to use, and a neighbor, who has only planted corn the past at least five years.
Both clods of dirt were put in water. His dirt pretty much stayed in tact, held together by all things natural. The water was clear.
The neighbor’s dirt took about a minute to completely fall apart and dirty the water.
Another experiment dealt with soil that was completely free of plant life that did not follow the five goals. Each soil sample progressively had more cover, up to a patch of grass. He watered the five samples. 
The plain soil had much soil runoff and when it was turned upside down, the bottom was completely dry, showing the water did not soak into the ground.
The grassy patch, on the other hand, had little runoff and soaked in real good.
Matt Helmers of Iowa State University showed some new technology regarding buffering. Farmers have been tiling their land for years, but researchers have found tile allows large amounts of nitrates to drain into the waterways.
The newest theory to slow that down is to allow a fraction of the tile flow to go through riparian buffers, which would reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus being released into streams and rivers. This is called a saturated buffer and was first used in Story City in 2012, so that technology is still progressing.
Another way to dissipate the release of nitrates is to use a bioreactor that uses woodchips to filter the water.
The group then broke for lunch. In the afternoon, they heard from local farmers on what they are doing to preserve the soil and keep the water fresh.
The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation was happy to help sponsor the event, which fits hand-in-hand with Dr. Borlaug’s philosophy of feeding the world.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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