Cover Crops Offer Many Choices, Benefits

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

Harvest doesn't mean all Nebraska fields will stay empty until next spring.

Agronomy Extension Educator Mark Hinze says there are many benefits to planting a cover crop between main crops.

"Cover crops help with our soil tilth, helps with our soil health," says Hinze. "We have a crop above ground, but we also have a crop below ground and that's our soil microbes."

Hinze says cover crops can increase organic matter and even improve the soil's ability to hold water - all things that can lead to better yields.

"Sometimes you want to plant an annual crop that winter kills, so like turnips would be a great example where you would penetrate the soil for compaction issues and then the turnips die over the winter and so they're not a weed next spring because the winter has taken them out," he says.

Clay County Extension Educator Jenny Rees says there are different reasons for each producer to consider it.

"It really comes down to what the goals are the producer is trying to achieve by planting the cover crops," she says.

And she says there are a lot of choices available.

"Things like rye, turnips, radishes and then also different cocktail mixes, so there could be some different mustards or other types of legumes," says Rees.

Extension educators say cover crops are good for livestock too because they provide a little extra forage for animals like cows on cornstalks.

But they have long-term and far-reaching benefits for people too. (12)

"The cover crop a lot of times recaptures some of that nitrate that would normally leach down through the profile into our drinking water," says Hinze.

Hinze says when the cover crop dies in the spring it releases that nitrogen again where it's then available for the main crop.

Though officials say the cover crop planting window is closing, they say it may not be too late for a producer depending on their needs.

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