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SWCD and TNC partner to offer funding for planting cover crops

Fri, Jul 15th, 2011
Posted in Agriculture

The Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has received funding from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to offer assistance to farmers in the Root River watershed who are interested in seeding cover crops on soybean and corn silage acres. Anyone who is interested should contact the SWCD office at (507)765-3878, ext. 3 before August 10. Funds are limited, so producers are encouraged to get signed up early. Drilling, broadcast seeding or aerial seeding are all eligible for financial assistance. Payment rates are $20/acre for first year participants and $15/acre for second year participants. Producers in Watson Creek watershed between Fountain and Wykoff, Wisel Creek and Upper South Fork Root River watersheds between Harmony and Mabel, and Rush-Pine watershed upstream of Rushford are also eligible for special federal funds for planting cover crops in 2012 and 2013.

Cover crops are grasses, legumes, forbs, or other herbaceous plants established for seasonal cover and other conservation purposes. Winter rye works especially well because it germinates and grows quickly. It also grows late into the fall and early in the spring providing good ground cover during the time when the soil is most vulnerable to erosion following harvest in the fall until planting occurs in the spring. Even after it is tilled or controlled in the spring, the biomass in the roots helps reduce erosion until the crop canopy forms.

Cover crops provide many other benefits besides erosion control. Carbon captured in the plant's biomass and in the soil increases soil organic matter, which promotes water infiltration, increases soil moisture, and enhances root growth and earthworm activity to counteract compaction. Cover crops can reduce fertilizer and pesticide costs by capturing nitrogen, then slowly releasing it as the cover crop decays, and by retaining phosphorus that is attached to the soil. Proper timing of cover crops suppresses weeds and breaks disease cycles. Cover crops can be a great source of supplemental forage that is grazed or harvested. Winter rye that is seeded on corn silage acres can be grazed the following spring, or even in the late fall if growing conditions are ideal. Spring grazing allows more time for forage in permanent pastures to become better established, and late grazing in the fall reduces feed costs and allows permanent pastures to recover before winter. Rye that is allowed to grow in the spring can also be harvested for silage. In effect, cover crops "harvest more sunshine" and keep the land producing a crop beyond the row crop season.

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