Cover crop acreage grows in Green County - Paycheck

Cover crop acreage grows in Green County

   Cover crops are the way of the future in the agriculture industry. Their use is gaining popularity around the state of Wisconsin and especially in the Driftless Region of the state. Green County continues to increase acreage planted in cover crops every year.

   “Planting cover crops is the right thing to do and it does pay,” said cash cropper Jerry Daniels who farms 800 acres with his wife, Barb, in the Brodhead area.

   The Daniels’ focus on building soil quality and have practiced no-till for the last 15 years. Over the last five years they’ve been dabbling in cover crops. Last year, they planted half of their crops in green living cover crops that were terminated either with chemicals or a roller-crimper. Many were terminated before the planting of the regular field crop while others grew together for awhile in harmony with the field crop.

   Cover crops are crucial to feeding the biology in the soil when the regular field crop isn’t there. Then that soil biology is ready to do its job when a field crop is planted again, said Jerry Daniels.

   “Cover crops reduce soil and wind erosion, build soil structure and promote biodiversity,” he said.

   In the off season, Daniels said his cover crops help recover excess nutrients that weren’t utilized by the field crops during the growing season. Some of his cover crops through the years include triticale, cereal rye, oats, peas, hairy vetch, sunflowers, clovers, turnips and tillage radishes.

   “Different plants feed different bugs,” he said. “And as cover crops die off, they release their nutrients and that helps the bugs.”

   Most cover crops can handle direct manure applications. Nutrients from manure are held in the soil until the field crop is planted again the following spring. These beneficial crops help stave off compaction, add root structure to the ground helping with aeration and water-holding capacity, and generally assist the microbiology living in the soil.

   “The activity below the ground is very important,” said Barb Daniels. “When cover crops die, the roots that are left remain in the ground and continue to be able to provide nutrients for the underground life. And when cover crops are growing undisturbed, the diversity of insects is growing below.”

   Jerry Daniels is becoming involved with Farmers of the Sugar River, a producer-led watershed group focusing on conservation practice promotion. This group was formed in 2018 and offers incentive payments to farmers in the mid and lower Sugar River watersheds to plant cover crops and try new practices that improve soil health and reduce erosion, which will result in better water quality.

   “Last year I reported that we had over 1,200 acres of cover crops through the group,” said Tonya Gratz, conservation technician with the Land and Water Department in Green County.

   Some farmers are planting cover crops without taking advantage of the cost-share incentive, she said. Calculating an exact number is tough.

   “I would say that since the weather has been so great this fall compared to the last two wet falls, there is probably 50 percent more this year, easily, than last year,” Gratz said.

   For more information, visit https://greencountylwcd.com/farmers-of-the-sugar-river/

Mary Hookham

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