Cover crops are a being talked about more and more right now within the farming community, and with good reason. When conditions are right, cover crops increase soil health, reduce soil compaction, reduce weed pressure, reduce erosion, and can be used as forage for livestock. With all these benefits, why isn’t everyone already utilizing cover crops? One of the main challenges is that every situation is different. Variables such as weather, crop rotation, soil types, and the types of herbicides being applied are all factors in determining how cover crops can be utilized.
Studies throughout the United States have shown that cover crops can lead to a multitude of benefits, both financial and environmental, but these studies have been done outside of Scott County where the variables are different. Because of this, it can be challenging to apply the findings of the studies here. The general findings of the studies are helpful, but the specifics of when and what to plant can vary greatly.
To better serve local producers, the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District wants to dig into the specifics of growing cover crops right here in Scott County. They are working to find out what the challenges and barriers are to growing cover crops here, as well as learning the best ways of implementing cover crops here. As part of this effort, the Scott SWCD is implementing a series of cover crop trials, including a cover crop test plot near Belle Plaine.
The test plot is part of a larger field farmed by Rob Schultz, which he planted to corn this spring. In mid-June, the Scott SWCD interseeded a cover crop of Annual Ryegrass, Berseem Clover, Bayou Kale, and Purple Top Turnips into standing corn on the test plot portion of the field. This three acre portion of the field will be used as the Scott SWCD’s test plot for the next five years, incorporating cover crops into Schultz’s corn and soybean rotation.
There was an interseeding field day on the test plot in June, and additional field days will take place this fall and next spring. Even if you cannot make it to a scheduled field day, anyone is welcome to view the cover crop test plot on their own, which is along West Evergreen Street, Belle Plaine. The Scott SWCD has also set up additional side-by-side comparison sites where half of the field will be seeded with cover crops, while the remaining portion of the field will be farmed with no changes. Soil tests will be done on these fields every year for the next five years to track how the soil is changing where covers are being grown and where they are not. Yield comparisons will also be done to show how covers affect yield. The field comparison sites have various soil types to help give a more complete picture of how cover crops can be implemented in multiple scenarios across the county. With this local cover crop data in hand, producers will be able to make informed decisions about whether or not cover crops are a viable option for their operation.
If you are interested in incorporating cover crops into your operation, the Scott SWCD can work with you to create a cover crop plan specific to your farm. They can also help you sign up for financial incentives from the Scott Watershed Management Organization and the Prior Lake Spring Lake Watershed District. Call the Scott SWCD office at 952-492-5425 to sign up or to learn more.
Cover crops growing between rows of standing corn at the
Scott SWCD’s Test Plot near Belle Plaine