The Bremmer family has raised cattle and produced crops in northwestern Illinois for more than a century. Over time, they’ve found ways to improve their operation — the latest improvement is the use of cover crops.

Brothers Ross and Chad Bremmer, fourth-generation farmers, are already seeing the benefits of cover crops — healthy food for their cattle, less erosion and an increase in the soil’s water-storage capacity.

The brothers worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to find the best cover crops for their land. They were looking for a cover crop that helped the soil while providing good sustenance for their cattle.

“Cover crops are not a new conservation practice by any means,” said Jim Ritterbusch, Stephenson County NRCS district conservationist. “They’ve been used for many generations. But we’re just starting to understand all the soil health benefits we can get from cover crops. And we’re seeing a renewed interest in them, which is exciting.”

The Bremmers chose cereal ryegrass and winter wheat as cover crops. Their local NRCS office provided helpful information, job sheets and guidance. The Bremmers chose cereal rye because it’s a northern grass that germinates and grows best in cooler conditions.

“We were looking for ways to cheapen our feed cost for our cattle and reduce soil erosion and improve quality,” Ross Bremmer said.

Using their conservation plan as a guide, they started planting cover crops in September, putting living roots and new organic matter into the soil.

Ross Bremmer said he noticed soybean yields were better in the area where they had grown cereal rye. Plus, the cover crops held soil in place, even with heavy spring rains.

Bottom line: just after two years, the Bremmers have already seen positive results on their farm due to cover crops, and cover crops are there to stay.

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