Thursday, 2 May 2013

Winter crops protect, improve soil

Galesburg.com reports on how a growing number of farmers in Illinois are growing cover crops to improve their soils.

The reports says that the concept seems one of the hottest topics in the agriculture industry, said Russ Higgins, commercial agriculture educator with University of Illinois Extension and a representative of the Midwest Cover Crops Council.

Cover crops, such as radishes and ryegrass, are a secondary crop planted in the fall to protect and improve soil conditions during the period of time when crops normally wouldn’t grow, he said. Illinois farm fields, unless planted to harvestable crops like winter wheat or multiple seasons of alfalfa hay, generally rest unused in a six- to seven-month window of cool or cold weather.

Cover crops have the ability to take up essential nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. As the cover crop decomposes, the nutrients become available to benefit the next crop, Higgins said. Cover crops limit soil erosion and improve water quality as they provide a matt of residue to filter surface water. The cover crop can break weed and disease cycles. And some, including root crops like radishes and deep-rooted grasses, can alleviate soil compaction. All of this can lead to greater corn and soybean yields in certain fields.

Read the full article here.