GROWING N. Rick Clark examines a clump of soil near his Williamsport, Ind., farm. He uses cover crops for nitrogen, rather than manufactured sources.

Cover Crop Nutrients Keep Money in No-Tiller Pockets

Rick Clark knows how much you can save using cover crops, and he’s got numbers.

Rick Clark wants growers to spend less on synthetic inputs.

He also wants to eliminate herbicides, open up the window for planting, and more. That all starts with eliminating tillage, Clark says.

“Tillage has to stop,” he says. “Tillage is so damaging to the soil profile. We work hard to build soil health to build the microbial community. When you bring a piece of tillage equipment through that microbial community, you destroy that community and it now cannot function at peak performance.

“We need the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which are the communications backbone of the network, and we need the network working because there will (not) be new transactions without that fungi.”

The Indiana no-tiller has turned away from manufactured nutrients. Instead, he grows his own nitrogen in the form of cover crops. At the 2022 National No-Tillage Conference, he outlined his strategy for replacing inputs and touched on his broader ideas about soil stewardship.

His first step was introducing cold-tolerant peas, which widen the growing season window into cooler months at either end.

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COVER CROP VALUE. This chart, taken from Rick Clark’s 2022 National No-Tillage Conference presentation, shows the dollar values recovered from using cereal rye as a source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Cereal Rye

Cover crops, done right, can furnish nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) in abundance, and Clark has the figures to back this up.

To find out how much of each cover crops provide on your operation, he  recommends measuring them using a…

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Brian o connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor started at Lessiter Media as the Lead Content Editor for Conservation Agriculture in November 2021. He previously worked in daily print journalism for more than a decade in places as far flung as Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he shared a national award for coverage of two Category 5 hurricanes that struck the islands in 2017. He's also taught English in Korea, delivered packages for Amazon, and coordinated Wisconsin election night coverage for the Associated Press. His first job was on a Southeast Wisconsin farm.

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