Submitted by Bob Scanlan

The Root River SWCD is currently taking applications for a local cover crop program.  Houston County producers interested in applying for the program are urged to do so within the next couple of weeks.  

The program is available to first time cover crop users who are considering the practice as a way of improving soil health, reducing erosion, and scavenging nutrients.  The program works like this:  A producer can dedicate up to 30 of their row crop acres to the program over the next 3 years.  A one- time, up-front payment of $30/acre is paid (for all 3 years) upon the first year’s planting of the cover crop.

Cover crops have been found to be very beneficial to soil health by increasing organic matter, reducing erosion, improving soil structure, and improving water infiltration.

Begin your path to healthy soils:

1.Keep the soil covered.  Leave crop residues on the field in the fall and/or grow cover crops.

2.Do not disturb.  Minimum tillage is o.k.  Vertical till is better.  No-till is best.  

3.Diversify.  Use cover crops and crop rotation to feed your soil.

Basic principles for improving soil heath and sustainability:

1. Plant diversity increases diversity of microbes in the soil.

2.Manage soils by disturbing them less.  Less disturbance leads to increased soil structure.

3.Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil microbes.

4.Keep the soil covered as much as possible.  Use cover crops and leave crop residue.

Benefits of a healthy soil:

1. Healthy soils hold more water by binding it to organic matter and loses less water to runoff and evaporation.

2.Organic matter builds as tillage declines and plants and residue cover the soil.  Organic matter holds 18-20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use.

3.Many Houston County soils are 1.5 to 4 percent organic matter content.  A one percent increase in organic matter in the top six inches of soil would hold approximately 27,000 more gallons of water per acre.  This means less runoff and more infiltration.

Be a part of the conservation solution!  If you are interested in signing up for the local cover crop program or would like to learn more call Bob Scanlan, Root River SWCD at 724-5261.

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