Dewey County Farmer Seeing the Benefits of Cover CropsMon, 19 Jan 2015 17:09:27 CST
Cover crops have been widely used in the upper Midwest and now their popularity is growing in Oklahoma. Cover crops are used to provide cover for fields to decrease soil erosion, lower soil temperature and decrease moisture evaporation. Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays caught up with Jimmy Emmons of Leedey, Oklahoma to talk about his cover crop system. Click or tap on the LISTENBAR below to listen to the full conversation.
Emmons said he prefers to plant a "cocktail mix" of multiple species. He said the ideal mix will enhance the production of the following crop. For instance, if he is going to plant a crop that requires a lot of nitrogen, then he will need to plant a mix with more legumes, like peas. If he needs to increase the organic matter in the soil, then he will plant more grasses like a forage sorghum, Egyptian wheat or a hybrid pearl millet.
"So you need to target that cocktail mix toward your next goal of the cash crop behind that and we're finding out that the more mix varieties that you have in the mix, the better the success you have," Emmons said."
In planting cover crops, Emmons said he has learned some important lessons like having his cover crop seed on hand in advance of planting because of the logistics in getting seed. He also recommends being prepared to plant when you receive a rain, so there is moisture available to get the crop started. Emmons mostly uses cover crops following wheat and typically rain comes around harvest, so he has learned you need to be ready for planting as soon as possible.
In making the switch to cover crops, Emmons said farmers must be willing to change their farming practices to try something new. Prior to planting cover crops, he did not realize that by plowing fields that was killing the bacteria in the ground, destroying the habitat of beneficial insects and it was degrading the soil. Using cover crops allows farmers to increase their soil nutrients and organic matter and that will allow farmers to get their soil back to the way it used to be. In making the switch to cover crops, Emmons recommends farmers get help from the local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), conservation district or by networking with other producers that have used cover crops. Oklahoma last week received funding to expand Oklahoma's Healthy Soils project and conservation funding from the US Department of Agriculture will establish cover crop on-farm trials on ten farms across the state of Oklahoma.
Emmons was initially skeptical that planting cover crops would use up too much moisture and would lower yields of the subsequent crop. He was also skeptical that cover crops would be able increase nutrients in the soil. After planting cover crops for several years, he has found his concerns were untrue as he has been able to save water, increase nutrients and has been successful with his subsequent cash crops. Emmons looks for his fertilizer requirements to decrease over time. Similar to making the switch to no-till production, he said it will take five to fifteen years before those rewards come to fruition. Farmers in the northern and eastern cornbelt have been using cover crops a lot longer and they now require a limited use of fertilizer to the grow the next crop.
"We're seeing some benefits, but the best is yet to come," Emmons said.
Click here to learn more Jimmy Emmons and cover crop system on his Dewey County Farm.
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