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Upgrade Your Soil Quality With Cover Crops, Rotations

Coupled with a good no-till program, these are critical building blocks to boost your soil quality and productivity.

“If we degrade our soils, we degrade our economic survivability,” maintains Wayne Reeves.

The agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service’s National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Ala., says using conservation tillage alone can’t solve soil quality problems. But he maintains that good residue production can be achieved through using the cover crops and intensive crop rotations that are best suited to your particular climactic zone.

Know What Works

Before setting out to improve soil quality, consider what works in your particular area, stresses Reeves. His research on soil quality has been focused in Alabama, which has a longer growing season than the Midwest.

While Alabama can get as much as 60 inches of rain per year, the rainfall can also be very sporadic. “Short-term drought is our most yield-limiting factor. In fact, every other year, it’s a yield-limiting factor,” says Reeves.

For the last 3 years, corn yields in Alabama have averaged 77 bushels per acre while yields in Illinois and Iowa have averaged 145 bushels per acre. Similarly, Alabama’s average soybean yields have been only 19 bushels per acre compared to 45 bushels per acre in much of the Midwest. As a result, fewer farmers are growing corn and soybeans in Alabama and concentrating instead on cotton and peanuts as cash crops.

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The USDA agronomist sees soil degradation as a serious problem in parts of the Southeast. But after visiting Brazil (where no-till has really taken off) 8 years ago, he realized something could…

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