April 24, 2014

C2040-406 PDF exams 1Z0-144 PDF exams 1Z0-507 PDF exams 1Z0-519 PDF exams 1Z0-541 PDF exams 200-101 PDF exams 201-01 PDF exams 299-01 PDF exams 300-209 PDF exams 3I0-012 PDF exams 500-051 PDF exams 640-461 PDF exams 640-864 PDF exams 642-813 PDF exams 642-832 PDF exams 700-038 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams 70-496 PDF exams 70-646 PDF exams 70-680 PDF exams 70-684 PDF exams 74-343 PDF exams 77-888 PDF exams 98-361 PDF exams A2010-505 PDF exams A4040-226 PDF exams C_GRCAC_10 PDF exams C_HANAIMP131 PDF exams C_TBW45_70 PDF exams C_TBW55_73 PDF exams C_TFIN52_66 PDF exams C2010-570 PDF exams C2020-001 PDF exams C2020-702 PDF exams C2020-703 PDF exams C2040-406 PDF exams C2040-407 PDF exams C2040-840 PDF exams C2050-241 PDF exams C2070-588 PDF exams C2180-400 PDF exams C4060-156 PDF exams C4090-451 PDF exams CAT-060 PDF exams CCA-410 PDF exams CLO-001 PDF exams CSSGB PDF exams CV0-001 PDF exams C2020-702 PDF exams C2020-703 PDF exams C2040-406 PDF exams C2040-407 PDF exams C2040-840 PDF exams C2050-241 PDF exams C2070-588 PDF exams C2180-400 PDF exams C4060-156 PDF exams C4090-451 PDF exams CAT-060 PDF exams CCA-410 PDF exams CLO-001 PDF exams CSSGB PDF exams CV0-001 PDF exams E20-335 PDF exams HP0-Y46 PDF exams IBMSPSSMPRO PDF exams M2020-615 PDF exams M2070-640 PDF exams MB6-886 PDF exams MB7-700 PDF exams N10-005 PDF exams 70-346 PDF exams 70-412 PDF exams 70-458 PDF exams 70-486 PDF exams 820-421 PDF exams 820-422 PDF exams C2170-008 PDF exams C2180-275 PDF exams C2180-276 PDF exams C4040-123 PDF exams JN0-343 PDF exams M70-201 PDF exams M70-301 PDF exams NS0-504 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams PW0-204 PDF exams 3001 PDF exams 050-720 PDF exams 070-480 PDF exams C_THR12_66 PDF exams C4040-225 PDF exams 1Z0-061 PDF exams 70-347 PDF exams C4090-452 PDF exams VCP-550 PDF exams 070-177 PDF exams 070-412 PDF exams 70-417 PDF exams 70-463 PDF exams 70-488 PDF exams C_HANATEC131 PDF exams C2090-303 PDF exams C2090-614 PDF exams 70-331 PDF exams MB5-705 PDF exams 070-247 PDF exams 070-347 PDF exams 070-463 PDF exams 300-206 PDF exams 70-243 PDF exams 74-325 PDF exams C2020-622 PDF exams C2030-283 PDF exams C2090-540 PDF exams C2180-278 PDF exams HP0-J73 PDF exams ICBB PDF exams 070-246 PDF exams 070-341 PDF exams 070-417 PDF exams 070-457 PDF exams 070-458 PDF exams 1Z0-481 PDF exams 1Z0-599 PDF exams 300-207 PDF exams 70-246 PDF exams 70-414 PDF exams A00-240 PDF exams C_TAW12_731 PDF exams C4030-670 PDF exams C4040-224 PDF exams C4090-450 PDF exams C4120-783 PDF exams EX200 PDF exams MB2-700 PDF exams MB3-700 PDF exams MB6-869 PDF exams OG0-093 PDF exams VCP-510 PDF exams VCP550 PDF exams 070-178 PDF exams 070-331 PDF exams 070-467 PDF exams 070-667 PDF exams 070-684 PDF exams 070-687 PDF exams 1Z0-051 PDF exams 1Z0-060 PDF exams 1Z0-478 PDF exams 1Z0-485 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams 050-SEPROAUTH-02 PDF exams 200-120 PDF exams MB2-703 PDF exams 070-462 PDF exams 70-462 PDF exams 70-461 PDF exams 070-410 PDF exams JN0-102 PDF exams 70-411 PDF exams C_TADM51_731 PDF exams C4090-958 PDF exams 70-483 PDF exams EX300 PDF exams 070-461 PDF exams MB2-702 PDF exams MB7-702 PDF exams 220-802 PDF exams 400-101 PDF exams" rel="bookmark">The Cover Up C2040-406 PDF exams 1Z0-144 PDF exams 1Z0-507 PDF exams 1Z0-519 PDF exams 1Z0-541 PDF exams 200-101 PDF exams 201-01 PDF exams 299-01 PDF exams 300-209 PDF exams 3I0-012 PDF exams 500-051 PDF exams 640-461 PDF exams 640-864 PDF exams 642-813 PDF exams 642-832 PDF exams 700-038 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams 70-496 PDF exams 70-646 PDF exams 70-680 PDF exams 70-684 PDF exams 74-343 PDF exams 77-888 PDF exams 98-361 PDF exams A2010-505 PDF exams A4040-226 PDF exams C_GRCAC_10 PDF exams C_HANAIMP131 PDF exams C_TBW45_70 PDF exams C_TBW55_73 PDF exams C_TFIN52_66 PDF exams C2010-570 PDF exams C2020-001 PDF exams C2020-702 PDF exams C2020-703 PDF exams C2040-406 PDF exams C2040-407 PDF exams C2040-840 PDF exams C2050-241 PDF exams C2070-588 PDF exams C2180-400 PDF exams C4060-156 PDF exams C4090-451 PDF exams CAT-060 PDF exams CCA-410 PDF exams CLO-001 PDF exams CSSGB PDF exams CV0-001 PDF exams C2020-702 PDF exams C2020-703 PDF exams C2040-406 PDF exams C2040-407 PDF exams C2040-840 PDF exams C2050-241 PDF exams C2070-588 PDF exams C2180-400 PDF exams C4060-156 PDF exams C4090-451 PDF exams CAT-060 PDF exams CCA-410 PDF exams CLO-001 PDF exams CSSGB PDF exams CV0-001 PDF exams E20-335 PDF exams HP0-Y46 PDF exams IBMSPSSMPRO PDF exams M2020-615 PDF exams M2070-640 PDF exams MB6-886 PDF exams MB7-700 PDF exams N10-005 PDF exams 70-346 PDF exams 70-412 PDF exams 70-458 PDF exams 70-486 PDF exams 820-421 PDF exams 820-422 PDF exams C2170-008 PDF exams C2180-275 PDF exams C2180-276 PDF exams C4040-123 PDF exams JN0-343 PDF exams M70-201 PDF exams M70-301 PDF exams NS0-504 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams PW0-204 PDF exams 3001 PDF exams 050-720 PDF exams 070-480 PDF exams C_THR12_66 PDF exams C4040-225 PDF exams 1Z0-061 PDF exams 70-347 PDF exams C4090-452 PDF exams VCP-550 PDF exams 070-177 PDF exams 070-412 PDF exams 70-417 PDF exams 70-463 PDF exams 70-488 PDF exams C_HANATEC131 PDF exams C2090-303 PDF exams C2090-614 PDF exams 70-331 PDF exams MB5-705 PDF exams 070-247 PDF exams 070-347 PDF exams 070-463 PDF exams 300-206 PDF exams 70-243 PDF exams 74-325 PDF exams C2020-622 PDF exams C2030-283 PDF exams C2090-540 PDF exams C2180-278 PDF exams HP0-J73 PDF exams ICBB PDF exams 070-246 PDF exams 070-341 PDF exams 070-417 PDF exams 070-457 PDF exams 070-458 PDF exams 1Z0-481 PDF exams 1Z0-599 PDF exams 300-207 PDF exams 70-246 PDF exams 70-414 PDF exams A00-240 PDF exams C_TAW12_731 PDF exams C4030-670 PDF exams C4040-224 PDF exams C4090-450 PDF exams C4120-783 PDF exams EX200 PDF exams MB2-700 PDF exams MB3-700 PDF exams MB6-869 PDF exams OG0-093 PDF exams VCP-510 PDF exams VCP550 PDF exams 070-178 PDF exams 070-331 PDF exams 070-467 PDF exams 070-667 PDF exams 070-684 PDF exams 070-687 PDF exams 1Z0-051 PDF exams 1Z0-060 PDF exams 1Z0-478 PDF exams 1Z0-485 PDF exams 70-410 PDF exams 050-SEPROAUTH-02 PDF exams 200-120 PDF exams MB2-703 PDF exams 070-462 PDF exams 70-462 PDF exams 70-461 PDF exams 070-410 PDF exams JN0-102 PDF exams 70-411 PDF exams C_TADM51_731 PDF exams C4090-958 PDF exams 70-483 PDF exams EX300 PDF exams 070-461 PDF exams MB2-702 PDF exams MB7-702 PDF exams 220-802 PDF exams 400-101 PDF exams

Angela Smith

Angela Smith

Project Adviser

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

ASmith-covercrops-before-2013

Before cover crops.

Okay. I admit it. Sometimes I can be a little overzealous about things. Take cover cropping, for instance. Before I moved to Minnesota, my family gardened a 10 ft. by 15 ft. plot through the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks’ City Farms program. And while 150 square feet can produce quite a bit of food, it’s still a really small space. You can walk from one end of your garden plot to the other by taking approximately five long strides. So, when cold weather approaches and people put their gardens to bed for the winter, they tend to just leave them bare, let the stuff that was growing in them hang out until spring, or throw down a bunch of compost or straw to protect and enrich the soil. To do much else – like seed a cover crop – is a little, well, over-the-top.

Nonetheless, I wanted to do it. I had read about the benefits of the practice, and it seemed like a good thing to try out. So, I went to Meyer Seed Company and asked for (I’m not kidding) four ounces of barley and one ounce of crimson clover, roughly the amounts recommended in my Master Gardener manual. The salesman couldn’t even weigh such small amounts, but he was a good sport, and I walked out satisfied to have seed in hand and only 85 cents poorer than when I went in.

ASmith-covercrops-after-2013

After cover crops.

Now, instead of my little city garden plot, I have this huge Minnesota farm. There was never any question about whether I would cover crop. The only question was how to do it on an area 1,452 times larger than my Baltimore plot. When we first moved to the farm, I would look down on the two fields that had been in corn production and see lots and lots of bare soil, punctuated by corn stalks cut off nearly to the ground. It made me cringe when the rains came or we had a particularly windy day; I would imagine little particles of soil being picked up and carried to the river, my soil fertility declining and water pollution increasing in concert. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to farm the first year we were here – too much settling in to do – and we were also cash-strapped from the move. But I also knew that the first step in building a relationship with this land was to start paying attention to it, even if I wasn’t growing food on it quite yet. My first act toward building such a relationship was the cover crop.

Anyone who’s ever begun or maintained a relationship knows that relationships exact their prices, in time and money. This is no different on a farm. The cover crop seed that I purchased – versa grass and medium red clover – cost me $600, or $120/acre on five acres. I also had to hire a neighbor who actually has a tractor to sow the seeds ($300), but most farmers have their own equipment and don’t bear this additional cost. Now, admittedly, $120/acre for a cover crop is unusually high. [1] The Farm Country Co-Op where I purchased the seed told me that a more common figure is around $50/acre. [2] One difference between the seed that I bought and the seed that most area farmers buy is that mine was for perennial cover crops and theirs are usually for annuals. See, I figured that it would be cheaper in the long run to buy seed only once; the soil will stay covered until I am ready to expand the growing operation, a little at a time. Row crop farmers, on the other hand, plant a new crop every year – corn and soy most typically –and so they need their cover crops to die back each winter. This difference between perennial and annual is what largely accounts for the premium I paid.

Still, even $50/acre is a lot of money. The average farm size in Minnesota is 345 acres. [3] Not all of those will be growing row crops, and some farms will have some land in timber or pasture or some other such product, so not all of it may be appropriate for cover cropping. However, even if we low-ball it and say that 25 percent of a 345-acre farm would benefit from cover cropping, that’s still $4,300 for seed. Net farm income in 2014 is projected to be $81,200, with around 90 percent of that income coming from off-farm jobs. That means that, on average, farms are netting only around $7,490 from farming itself. Coming up with $4,300 would, obviously, present some serious economic problems for some farmers, at least in the short-term. (And even farmers would like to take a vacation every now and again.)

In the long term, though, cover cropping makes great sense. Cover crops break up compaction, provide wildlife habitat, and build soil organic matter. According to Ohio State University, each one percent of organic matter is worth $680 per acre in saved fertilizer costs. The Land Stewardship Project reports (see page 27) that one farmer, a Mr. Gabe Brown of Burleigh County, North Dakota, has been able to reduce his use of commercial fertilizer by over 90 percent and herbicides by 75 percent by cover cropping. When he does his math, he finds that every one percent of additional soil organic matter contains $751 worth of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and carbon. At five percent organic matter, a good aim to have, that’s $3,775 per acre. (I’d like to give a special thank you to the Land Stewardship Project for their article on cover crops, which saved me zillions of hours of research on this topic.)

Cover crops can also help reduce irrigation needs. A bare soil holds 1.7 inches of water versus 4.2 inches that a stand of living plants can hold.  This means that while farmers who use cover crops might not see much difference in their yields when compared to their neighbors who don’t use them during a normal year, they have a distinct advantage in the dry years. For instance, corn and soybeans planted after cover crops during the drought of 2012 had a 9.6 percent and 11.6 percent increase, respectively, when compared to fields that had no cover crops. Indeed, about 30 percent of the United States in experiencing a drought right now, and more droughts of longer duration are likely on the horizon thanks to climate change.

There are other benefits to cover cropping as well: it can reduce soil erosion by 90 percent and nutrient and pesticide run-off by half. So, why is it then that only two percent of farmland in the Mississippi River Basin (where I live) – a watershed that covers a whopping 41 percent of the continental United States – is cover cropped?

It all comes back to those short-term profits. Unless you’re a farmer who has some livestock that can graze on cover crop, returning some more immediate economic value to you, it may be hard to come up with the money. Let’s not forget that building soil and reaping these benefits takes time. Even non-farmers have trouble investing in long-term goals – even those who may have considerably higher pay-offs in the end – at the expense of more immediate needs. Just look at the state of retirement savings in this country. So, while farmers may know that cover crops are a good thing, they may not know exactly how to make use of them, in their current systems, in a way that makes good economic sense.

It would behoove the rest of us to help them out here. Some programs already exist to do just that. For example, the Minnesota NRCS is now providing financial assistance to farmers who will plant multiple species of cover crops on the same field for up to five years. And when farmers apply to be in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, they’ll garner more points for using cover crops, which results in higher contract payments. Field days are held by many agencies, universities, and others that bring farmers together to learn best practices for cover cropping. These activities are all fine and necessary, but we need to go farther than this: the public good more than outweighs the cost of cover cropping, and the benefits do as much good off the farm as on. Cover crops help us protect our ability to produce food even under the most difficult of weather conditions; clean up our waterways so that we can swim and fish in them; and hold on to our fertile soil and keep it where it belongs. As far as I’m concerned, the issue of cover crops is a no-brainer: they’re low-tech, they save money in the long run, and we all stand to benefit from their use. For many, the seeds are a splurge—but a worthwhile one.

[1] I also didn’t have a huge variety of seed to select from: in 2013, winter weather killed much of the alfalfa and other grazing crops that dairy farmers around here were growing, and come spring they bought up pretty much all of the seed that one might also use for cover cropping. I was lucky to even find anything by the time I got around to it, in mid-May.
[2] Some cover crops can be planted for as little as $5/acre, but this probably isn’t the norm either.
[3] Across the United States, the average farm size ranges from a low of 71 acres in tiny Rhode Island to as much as 3,780 acres in Wyoming.

Photos by Angela Smith.

3 Comments

  1. Posted by Michael Milli

    Hey, Angela, I liked your article a lot. I don’t think I have ever been so intrigued by cover crops. :) I do have a some questions, though. When you are using cover crops, I assume you plant them right after harvest? Then how do you plant your veggies when it’s time? Do you have to till or plow? Since you planted perennials, I would imagine that you would not want to destroy the roots of the cover crop so you wouldn’t till or plow. Is that not an issue? After planting, in the growing season, would a perennial cover crop grow through the veggies, or would they come up right after harvest? I obviously know nothing about this, you have gotten me interested.

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. Angela Smith

    Posted by Angela Smith

    Great questions, Mike. I will try to answer them as best I can, although I should admit up front that I am no cover crop expert. Still, I think I have learned a few things through my research, and I’ll point you to some other sources for additional information, too. Here goes:

    You asked about proper planting time for cover crops, and the answer is that it depends on the farmer’s needs, the length of the growing season, and how a particular field is going to be used. There are all sorts of ways to incorporate a cover crop. Cover crops can really be planted anytime. Many people wait until after they have harvested their summer crops before seeding a fall (and in warmer climates, winter) cover crop. They allow enough time for the fall crop to get established, thereby holding the soil in place over the winter and into the spring, until it is time to put in the veggies at which point they will remove )the cover crop. Other farmers will plant a cover crop in the spring, particularly on fields that they have chosen to fallow, for one reason or another. And still others plant a veggie (or corn or soy or whatever) crop and a cover crop in the same field at or around the same time. The farmer in the Land Stewardship Project article that I referenced did just that. He planted corn, but also a variety of cover crops at the same time. These cover crops will grow slowly in the field and hang out there until the corn is harvested and the cover crop can receive more sunlight for growth. So, as soon as the corn is removed, the cover crop is poised to grow up and take its place, ensuring that there is always something growing and keeping the soil in place.

    With respect to your question about tilling, you’re right that for me, I won’t till up the perennial cover crops until I’m ready to plant something else as doing so would destroy their roots and kill them, and I want them to come back year after year. But most farmers aren’t planting perennial cover crops; rather, they are planting annuals which die back on their own over the winter anyway. For me, as soon as I am able to grow my operation, I will have to take some measure to kill back the perennial cover crop in the areas that I need for, let’s say, strawberries because they won’t die back on their own. But in the adjacent spaces, I will leave the cover crops growing, particularly the clover which can provide my plants with a whole lot of nitrogen. How I kill the cover crop back is another thing that I need to research. I am not going to use chemicals, and I would like to avoid tilling at all costs. I’ve learned too much about underground networks of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi to know that I don’t want to sever those networks. There are other are other reasons to avoid tilling, too, like helping to maintain good soil structure, for one. The Rodale Institute has invented a nifty machine called a crimper that allows you to roll down and crush the cover crop enough that it can’t easily grow back. (I’m not sure if this works as well for annual cover crops as it does for perennials; this is another thing I need to check out.) The cover crop breaks down and builds organic matter in the soil, and the farmer can plant directly into the ground where the crimping has taken place. Check out their website for the specs and more information no-till farming. Still, even though it may not be necessary to till in an annual cover crop, many farmers will still do so in order to ready a field for planting a veggie crop. No-till agriculture is gaining momentum, though, and is increasingly being used throughout the United States, which is a good thing.

    Hope that answers your questions. Let me know if you have any others, and thanks for reading!

  3. Posted by Michael Milli

    Yes, thank you. Very interesting. The crimper tool seems pretty useful. I imagine that the plant material would also help keep moisture in the soil, as well as nutrients. Great article!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*