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How to talk to your friends about cover crops

Three farmers discuss cover crops in the field
SPREADING THE WORD: Talking to others about cover crops requires you to be ready to answer tough questions and to have practical advice for others.
Keep it simple and be ready to answer questions.

Those of us who are passionate about cover crops can't keep quiet! It's one thing to exude enthusiasm, but it's another thing to convince others to do plant cover crops, too.

Everyone in my neighborhood knows that I put out cover crops every year. But I don't force the issue on anyone. If someone asks how to profitably manage cover crops, I'll give them time and attention.

Simple concept
There is agreement that cover crops are good for the soil and the environment, especially those affected downstream. So, why doesn't everyone use them? It's simple: There is a significant learning curve and they are very complex to manage in a way that brings an economic return. 

Be yourself
Personally, I don't waste my time talking about cover crops to people who are not interested. But if someone asks a question or wants advice, I will gladly share my perspective. Try to identify common ground or the problems that could be solved using cover crops. For example, if your neighbor talks about challenges with herbicide-resistant weeds, tell them that cereal rye planted before soybeans can address that issue. Also, keep in mind that the cover crop conversation will be long term, so don't go on and on about the virtues of them and become annoying!

Be prepared
Do cover crops pay? How you answer this question may determine the outcome of the conversation. I prefer the total transparency approach. No, cover crops do not pay every year, but some years the economic return is significant, just like it is with our cash crops. You don't base one year's experience as a determining factor if they pay or not.

Also, cover cropping needs to be viewed in the context of a 10-year plan. There is a learning curve that needs to be factored in, too

Practical applications
It's always good to have some well-thought-out suggestions before the cover crop conversation presents itself. Start with the easiest methods, such as using your precision planter to plant cover crops. Some cover crop seeds can be singulated with existing seed plates. Since these planters usually have better seed-to-soil contact and more accurate metering, seeding rates can sometimes be cut in half.

Other simple strategies include planting cereal rye in the fall to seed soybeans in the spring. A bonus is that the cover crop will suppress herbicide-resistant weeds. Also, plant radishes and oats before corn. Both cover crops winter-kill in most areas and do not present challenges at planting.

Finally, you can suggest planting shorter-season genetics of corn or soybeans in order to harvest sooner and have more time to plant a cover crop.

The key point
The most important aspect of successful cover cropping is managing them. This is what needs to be emphasized in your conversation with your neighbor. Good farmers are good managers, and this applies to effective cover cropping, too.

The coach's closer
Cultivating both a friendship and cover crop adoption in your neighborhood is possible by just being yourself, talking about your own experiences and seeing the effort as a long-term conversation.

Groff is a cover crop innovator who farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Check out his website,

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