I think there are a lot of people who don’t understand the year-round job that farming is. I used to be one of those people. I actually never gave it much thought. I’ve been married to my farmer for just over three years now, and for some reason this year has been busier than ever. I guess part of it is because we took on more ground, have decided to dabble in the popcorn industry, and also because we have really embraced the practice of planting cover crops.
Last Friday night I went over to the farm with my husband, and him and our partner were cleaning out the combine to switch to popcorn. They said we had 67 acres to harvest, and it should only take a couple of days. Then I heard the words, “…we’ve got 400 acres of cover crops to plant.” I thought, WOW, that’s a lot of cover crops left.
So, harvest may be done, but the work to make the fields come full circle is not. What are cover crops? I think the easiest definition is from dictionary.com: a crop, usually a legume, planted to keep nutrients from leaching, soil from eroding, and land from weeding over, as during the winter.
In other words, we are trying to protect our soil and keep all of the good stuff in, and are moving away from tillage practices. We want to keep the soil healthy and in tact by managing it more naturally.
We plant the majority of the ground we farm to cover crops. That’s about 1000 acres. After we harvested the wheat and baled the straw this year, we planted a cover crop blend consisting of 13 varieties. These fields will be planted with corn next year. After we harvested beans this fall, we planted a cover crop mixture consisting of oats, rapeseed, hairy vetch, annual rye grass, and crimson clover. These fields will be planted to corn next year. The last fields to plant to cover crops are those that were corn this year. This cover crop of choice is rye, and then these fields will be planted to beans next year. This year when we planted beans, I rode along in the tractor and got some pictures of how tall the rye was.
We hopped on the cover crop bus a few years ago; my husband was even featured as a “Cover Crop Champion” through our local conservation district. Check it out below–they have great resources on their web site about cover crops also.