Growing up on a six-generation, family-owned dairy farm in Michigan, I remember helping my dad seed clover in the fall after harvesting corn silage. The goal was to produce some cheap fertilizer, protect the ground from winter erosion and mellow the soil prior to moldboard plowing, discing and planting in the spring.
But starting in the 1960s, interest in cover crops seemed to dwindle with the push for bigger farm acreages, wider implements, synthetic fertilizer and dealing with higher input costs. As a result, practices such as cover crops, that many dads and granddads had used faithfully for years, seemed to be swept to the side.
But that started to change a dozen or so years ago and no-tillers were among the first to once again recognize the many benefits of cover crops. Not only were innovative no-tillers keenly interested in reducing costly erosion, but they quickly saw the economic value of improving soil health and seeing the nutrient benefits that cover crops could provide in an inflation-rising economy.
A survey conducted during last winter’s National No-Tillage Conference showed that 65% of attendees had seeded cover crops last fall. Among those attendees using cover crops, they seeded an average of 406 acres. (The No-Till-Age chart at left indicates the average acreages of specific cover crops that conference attendees seeded last fall.)
Joel Gruver, an agronomist at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., says cover crops have many more benefits than the typical ones…