The Many Benefits of Cover Crops 

Erosion Control:

Cover crops provide erosion control. Fast-growing cover crops, such as most annual species, hold soil in place. Fallow fields often lose tons of topsoil per acre each year.

Weed Suppression:

Vigorous cover crops can significantly suppress the germination and/or growth of weeds, reducing the amount of herbicide use.

Improve Soil Tilth / Break Soil Compaction:

One of the most common factors that limit crop yield potential is the presence of hardpans (compacted soil layers). These hardpans prevent corn, soybean, wheat and other crop roots from penetrating deep into the soil. As a result, the crops are more susceptible to drought and have few nutrients available to them. Soil compaction can also prevent water infiltration, which further increases drought susceptibility and can delay spring planting. NitroRadish® has shown to break soil compaction up to 4 feet deep.

Increase Organic Content:

All cover crops can provide some organic content when they are terminated. However, products such as NitroRadish® and TNT Vetch®, with massive root systems and significant foliage, can add huge amounts of organic content. Organic content is important for numerous reasons, including increasing water infiltration and water-holding capacity (creating more drought tolerant fields) and improving beneficial micro-organism activity in the soil.

Nutrient Storage and Recycling / Nutrient Production:

Some cover crop products, such as NitroRadish®, can grow huge root systems/tubers. The radish absorbs a significant amount of nutrients when growing, but a large percentage is stored in the tuber. When the plant is terminated, much of those nutrients are released back into the soil. This characteristic is very beneficial in all fields, but it is exceptionally beneficial in fields that receive winter manure applications. Rather than losing much of the nitrogen and other nutrients to leaching, the radish absorbs the nutrients and holds them for future use. Growers are familiar with legumes and their nitrogen-fixing ability. But what is the best legume to plant for fields that need a big dose of nitrogen? In a University of Illinois Extension test from fall 2008 to spring 2009, TNT Vetch® was the most cold tolerant legume and produced nearly 200 units of nitrogen per acre. A legumes ability to overwinter is directly related to the amount of nitrogen it can deposit in the soil. Whether the cover crop stores nutrients or produces nutrients, the end result is often less fertilizer requirements, which saves money.

Forage Production:

Many cash crop producers are also beef or dairy producers. Some cover crop species/products are excellent forage quality. NitroRadish® and TNT Vetch® are excellent for grazing in mixes while TNT Vetch can also be used in a hay/silage mix. These cover crops can often product 3 to 6 tons of dry matter per acre in the cash crop "off season."

Soil Temperature Modification:

The University of Maryland discovered that radish cover crops increased spring soil temperatures by 6 to 8 degrees F compared to fallow fields. The likely reasons are the decaying process of plant matter generates heat and the darker decaying plant matter on the soil surface absorbs more light/heat. Warmer spring soil temperatures can facilitate faster crop germination and early season growth.

The Result is Higher Profits

When you maintain valuable topsoil, improve the quality of the soil, decrease herbicide use, decrease fertilizer use, decrease disease pressure, increase water-holding capacity, and increase forage production, profits are going to increase and, sometimes, increase substantially.

The University of Illinois at Carbondale performed a three-year cover crop study that ended in 2008. The study showed, under multiple years of cover crop use, corn production increased by up to 50 bushels per acre, with soybean yields increasing by the same percentage.

The University of Illinois study and numerous others calculate to increased net profits of $50 to $200 per acre. How many acres do you have? How much money are leaving on the table?


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