‘Roots in the ground’ is growing as a mantra among crop farmers experimenting with and using ‘cover crops’. Oats, rye, turnips, radishes, and various seed mixes planted after harvest help protect soil from wind and water erosion, soak up excess nutrients, and build up organic matter. Today, as the soil, water quality, and production benefits of using cover crops are better known, acceptance in interest in the practice are growing. Photo: Fall growth of cover crop in soybeans.
In south central Minnesota the largest number of cover crop acres is being claimed by members of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-op in Renville County. Since 2000, the co-op’s spring cover crop program has expanded to include more than 80 percent of its total of about 120,000 member acres. While most of the co-op’s cover crop acres are planted in spring, some growers are trying fall cover crops, which offer greater benefits.
The co-op’s research and monitoring show an average yield increase of $50 per acre on cover crop fields. “We now understand that it’s good for both the beets and the soil,” says Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture. Growers receive $4 per acre from the co-op for cover crop seeds, and can also seek technical and financial assistance for fall-planted cover crops from the Renville County SWCD office and Hawk Creek Watershed Project.
The initial incentive came from a requirement in the wastewater permit for the co-op’s Renville beet processing plant. In order to use a different ditch for treated outfall from the plant, the co-op agreed to achieve phosphorus reduction credits with cover crops and livestock exclusion from a ditch at Revier Cattle Company south of Olivia. Since 2005 the co-op has more than doubled the number of phosphorus-reduction credits annually, from the required 6,500 to an average of about 14,600. One credit equals one pound of phosphorus, a nutrient when in water can produce up to 500 pounds of algae. Articles about the co-op’s cover crop program:
Cost-share available from SWCD for fall-planted cover crops
Most of the co-op’s cover crops are being planted in spring, which protects emerging beet plants. Fall-planted cover crops extend the benefits to soil over the winter. The Renville SWCD/Hawk Creek Watershed cost-share program is for fall cover crops to protect the soil, build soil health, feed soil biology, suppress weeds and improve soil structure. “Our program is to provide financial assistance for local farmers to seed a fall cover crop to keep the soil covered through the fall, winter, spring,” says Holly Hatlewick of the Renville SWCD. Renville County producers using fall cover crops are reporting a five- to seven-bushel yield increase on their cash crops the growing season after they have a fall cover crop, Hatlewick says.