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The way some government agencies and ag groups are promoting cover crops these days, you’d think it was a brand new cropping practice. But while cover crops are a hot topic, it’s not because of any major research breakthroughs or being new on the ag scene. Instead, cover crops are offering a soil health message that’s starting to catch on with many folks both in and out of agriculture — a benefit that no-tillers have seen for many years.
As a kid growing up in the late 1940s on our family’s Centennial Farm in Michigan, I remember Dad seeding red clover after cutting silage corn for our dairy herd. And while recently looking back at some early copies of No-Till Farmer, there was an article in the August 1973 issue entitled “Aerial Seeding Is Working” with cover crops, along with an ad for Paraquat herbicide that asked, “Who’d plant rye in a stand of corn?” The answer was innovative no-tillers who were looking to reduce costs by seeding a fall cover crop.
What’s interesting is that no-tillers saw the many benefits of seeding cover crops well ahead of growers using other tillage practices. Since no-tillers keep residue on the ground all year long, seeding cover crops to reduce soil, water and wind erosion isn’t as important as with more intensive tillage systems. Instead, no-tillers rely on cover crops to improve soil health, trim fertilizer costs, aid in weed control and to improve other economic and environmental benefits.