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Tillage radishes aren’t the only cover crop you’ll find growing on Steve Groff’s farm this year. The no-tiller of Cedar Meadow Farm in Lancaster County, Pa., is on a quest to find the next great cover crop for no-tillers.
As of this year, that means devoting more acres to cover-crop research.
“We’re looking at the whole cover-crop opportunity,” says Groff. “Tillage radishes are great because they work well in so many places, but they have limitations.”
For example, they can’t be planted past September in many parts of the country, and they’re not legumes so they don’t fix nitrogen. Groff wants to find and develop management strategies for cover crops that work in more situations and in more regions.
“The challenges of cover crops are similar to no-tilling,” Groff says. “It takes attention to a lot of little details and timing. No one cover crop is perfect.”
At his fall field day, Groff showed off no less than 28 cover crops. Besides his own trials, Groff has worked with freelance soil ecologist Jill Clapperton to set up trials throughout the country.
“We’re trying to expand the horizon of cover crops,” Clapperton says. “We want species that allow livestock integration, improve profit margins, inhibit other plants, accumulate nutrients and much more.”
Some species Groff and Clapperton are working with may be unfamiliar or not normally thought of as cover crops. But they won’t be unfamiliar for long, Groff says.
Here are some interesting species that could be moving to the forefront…