AgPlus

1204 Saint Olaf Ave N
PO Box 149
Canby, MN 56220
507-223-7241
301 East 1st Street
PO Box 128
Minneota, MN 56264
507-872-6182

Planting the Potholes

 

 

By Randy Lopau, Certified Crop Advisor

Depending on your location and terrain, you may have some fields where our excessive rainfall and cool conditions this spring have left some potholes unplanted. As those areas dry out, what’s the best approach to take with those acres? Cover crops might be the answer you’re looking for.

Let’s consider the main alternative—bare soil. Those areas will likely require a higher level of weed control to keep them from becoming reservoirs of weed seed for this season and the next crop years. Without a competing crop, weeds can quickly gain the upper hand. Also, when these spots finally dry out, the surface becomes hard, crusted and prone to further erosion by water or wind. Soil organic matter declines and nutrients can be lost through leaching, even on fields not subject to water erosion.

A cover crop can accomplish several positive goals on these unplanted areas. They can:

  • Improve soil tilth and biological activity in topsoil. Cover crops protect the soil from further erosion by both water and wind. High biomass cover crops help build soil organic matter, improve soil aggregation, and stimulate soil biological activity. They provide additional food for earthworms and other soil organisms. Both the root growth and top growth of the cover crops will contribute to building soil organic matter faster than if the soil is left bare or growing weeds.
  • Increase permeability and decrease compaction. Deep-rooted cover crops can penetrate compacted layers and provide deep, continuous channels for water percolation and root penetration of subsequent cash crops.
  • Build soil nitrogen. Cover crops can build soil nitrogen by fixing atmospheric N (legumes) or by trapping residual soil N to prevent it from leaching into drainage waters. Some of the scavenged N will be available to succeeding cash crops while the rest helps build soil organic matter.
  • Absorb excess water. If we get additional moisture throughout the season, cover crops will handle the moisture more efficiently and minimize further damage or washing of the soil.

Not sure what cover crops might be the best fit for you? We can help. We’re very familiar with the cover crops that work well in our area, on your soil and with your particular rotation.

One final note: You should always check with the FSA and your crop insurance agent about harvest, haying and grazing restrictions for cover crops.

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