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Agriculture Resource Management: Cover Crops


Cover Crops in Corn Field

Cover crops are grown to protect the soil from washing away and to enhance the ability of the soil to support cash crops and infiltrate water. Soil is healthier and more productive when it's home to living roots and isn't left bare, and healthy soil is beneficial for surrounding waterways and yields. Covers also limit weed growth, increase nutrients in the soil, and can be beneficial for desired insects.
A 2017 survey of over 2,000 farmers nationwide found that using covers resulted in yield increases (2.3 bushels per acre of corn, 2.1 bushels per acre of soybeans) and increased soil health and weed control in a wide majority of farms. The cost per acre of planting covers is typically $30-$50, but the returns are $25-$96 per acre, and more if you're grazing animals on your land.

Rotations and Timing:

Some crop rotations in Dakota County are very conducive to the use of cover crops. Crops such as sweet corn, peas, or snap beans are harvested in the summer, which leaves a broader window for establishing cover crops. Incorporating covers into cash crops that are harvested in the fall, such as corn or soybeans, requires a little more innovation. Since we all know winter can come quickly, the window for establishing cover crops after harvest is shorter. This means that producers are thinking of creative ways to seed covers into cash crops during the growing season.


Cover Crop Incentive
Program

Seeding:

SWCD staff will assist with writing a cover crop seeding plan. Seeding plans can contain one or multiple species. The species are selected based upon the soil health goals for the field. Cover crop goals may include reducing compaction, fixing nitrogen, weed suppression, or forage value. Common cover crops in Dakota County are Cereal Rye, Oats, Tillage Radish, Clover and Winter Wheat.
Planting methods include broadcast, drill, or aerial. Many online resources assist with selecting seed mixes, planting methods, termination timing, and making decisions on herbicides or pest control (cover crops typically help with weed control and can shelter or provide food for beneficial insects.)

Financial Incentives:

The SWCD has a new cover crop incentive program that helps offset the costs. Apply under the Cover Crop program, and you could be eligible to receive $25 per acre per year under a 1-year contract (max $2500), or $35 per acre per year under a 3-year contract (max $10,500 over three years.) The maximum financial incentive equates to 100 acres per program participant.

More Resources:

Midwest Cover Crop Council
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education
Cover Crops (Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Any producers interested in cover crops should contact the SWCD for application information: 651-480-7777 or swcd@co.dakota.mn.us.