The Great American Cover Up!

These no-tillers use cover crops to conserve moisture, add nitrogen and get more bang for their buck.

When it comes to effectively using cover crops to enhance no-till soils and crop stands, chances are you won’t find any better information than what these no-tillers use on their own farms.

At last winter’s seventh annual National No-Tillage Conference, these no-tillers told all their cover crop bottom line boosting secrets to 660 eager attendees in St. Louis, Mo., who took these ideas home and put them immediately to work. You can do the same.

Here’s what they had to say:

Andy Clark, Beltsville, Md.

“We all know cover crops significantly reduce or stop erosion,” Clark says. “But there are lots of other benefits.”

Grasses Vs. Legumes

The first thing no-tillers should consider when selecting a cover crop is what kind of end result they wish to have.


“Something like a hairy vetch won’t help with erosion that much over winter,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Network says, “not compared to a cover crop like rye that grows more in the fall. Better yet, use a mixture of a grass and a legume.

“Grass is good to take nitrogen out of the soil, reducing leeching. Generally, your fall-planted, annual legumes will not do much recycling of nitrogen before winter.”

While Clark maintains legumes like hairy vetch do not take much nitrogen out of the soil, they may be an option for no-till fields that are nitrogen deficient.

“Legumes will produce a lot of nitrogen for your next crop,” he says. “Some of them, like hairy…

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