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Once you Chop, You should Crop

September 16, 2009

Once you chop, you should crop . . . cover crop that is!! It’s the time of year when the forage harvesters are fired up and acres upon acres of field corn are chopped for corn silage. Corn silage is a staple in many livestock diets. Once the silage is chopped and packed, you should be headed right back to the field to establish your cover crop. You can plant your cover crops before or after you apply manure, depending on the type of manure and type of cover crop. If you aren’t heading out to establish a cover crop, I would like to know why not?

Crimson Clover

There are many different types and varities of cover crops. Yesterday I was looking at a test/demonstration plot that was planted recently. This plot had 30 different species of cover crops, including legumes, grasses, and brassicas. These cover crops range from peas to beans to clovers to oats to buckwheat to rye to turnips. There is a cover crop out there that will suit everyones needs. Cover crops provide many benefits. They can decrease soil erosion, increase organic matter, and reduce soil compaction.
Tillage Radish

Soil erosion is cause by two main factors water and wind. Here in the eastern United States we do not have to deal with wind erosion as much as water erosion. Rain droplets that splash bare soil will dislodge soil particles. Once the soil is dislodged any rain that runs off will carry the soil particles with it, thus starting the erosion process. 1 ton of soil over a whole acre is the thickness of five sheets of office paper. That is not very thick. Most people will not even notice that change. The average soil in Lancaster County PA can regenerate about five tons of soil per year. So to break even you can only loss 5 tons a year, which isn’t a whole lot. Cover crops leaves help to reduce the impact a rain drop makes on the soil surface by slowing it down. Also the cover crops roots help keep the soil anchored in place.

Soil organic matter helps keep the soil flora and fauna happy. Plus it can hold moisture and it contains many plant available nutrients. When you plow, the soil is exposed to oxygen which speeds up the decomposition of organic matter. When you add a winter cover crop to your rotation, you can add an additional 2-4 tons of organic matter a year. Also if you plant into crop or cover crop residue you can add even more organic matter. Using no-till methods will help reduce your soil erosion and decrease your soil organic matter decomposition.

There are a few varities of turnips and radishes that can be used for “bio-tillage”. The taproots on these plants grow fairly deep and they are thick. When the plant dies and the roots decompose a nice space is left open for other plant roots to penetrate. Research has been done showing tillage radishes will penetrate the plow pan, leaving an open space for other plant roots to access the nutrients below the plow pan. Cover crop roots also help improve soil structure.

One can find cover crop seeds that can fit any budget. Everyone should be planting cover crops. This is a simple way to help improve the waters of the commonwealth and improve your soil at the same time!! So for everyone who isn’t planting some sort of cover crop, get out there and cover your soil, it is a great management decision!!!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2009 9:14 pm

    Your blog is so informative … ..I just bookmarked you….keep up the good work!!!!

  2. October 6, 2009 6:26 pm

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂 🙂

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