Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day Everyone!

by Deb Jimison
Deb serves as a Resource Specialist in the Tippecanoe Watershed area. Deb is housed in the Pulaski County field office as part of the Division of Soil Conservation team. Before joining ISDA, Jimison worked for Soil and Water Investigation in Elkhart as a soil scientist.  She brings a wealth of experience in storm water management and erosion control to the position. Jimison is an Indiana native from Elkhart County.  She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Purdue University in 1985. She lives in Winamac and enjoys travel, camping, canoeing and observing wildlife.

It seems that the saying “Everything old is new again” is true in many different areas. Our grandfather’s knew the benefits of cover crops, but somehow that practice was forgotten in modern farming.  As pressure grows from an ever-increasing world population for food and energy, cover crops have been re-discovered as a tool that helps the soil help producers. The technological advances in farming strategies, equipment and chemicals can increase production only so far if soils aren't revived as well. Cover crops, especially as part of an over-all system including additional conservation methods, can return to our soils the properties they once had when first converted into cropland.

Plans can meet individual needs at every farm as each cover crop addresses different things. Your situation might benefit from erosion control, holding on to nutrients, knocking back weeds or providing forage. Using the right plants or preferably a combination of plants with different properties is a powerful way to give soil a boost. Species with tap roots address surface compaction to improve water and nutrient movement to cash crops. Others with fibrous roots can build soil structure and improve tilth. Deep-rooted covers add permeability in heavy soils. Others may hold expensive nutrients and chemicals so they don’t get lost to the ground water.

Pit showing rooting depths of cover crops although not much is showing at the surface
As with any practice, there is the potential for problems if not used correctly.  Discuss plans with someone experienced in using cover crops prior to your first attempt. Do research to find the proper species, the correct scheduling of planting and termination and proper control methods for the crops you’d like to try. Then the improvements you want can be obtained and the negative effects on the next cash crop can be avoided. Your local ISDA Resource Specialist (RS) is a great source for obtaining information on cover crops and many other issues. Contact your local RS today with any questions or concerns you may have.

Early spring results of a mix of cover crops.

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