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Midsouth farmers have their head in the cover crop gameMidsouth farmers have their head in the cover crop game

The Midsouth region is at the forefront of pioneering advancements in cover cropping practices.

Brent Murphree

August 29, 2023

2 Min Read
Cover Crops
Throughout the ag industry, farmer-initiated field conservation efforts, like cover crops, have taken root and are part of the culture.Brent Murphree

You’ve heard me say it here before, the Midsouth is really the center of cover cropping systems in U.S. agriculture.

Of course, the center of much of that research and the start of the wave of no-till and low-till cropping across the Midsouth began at the Milan No-Till Field Day in Milan Tenn., in the early to mid-1990s. This is an off year for the field day but there is still a lot going on in Milan and across the Delta this summer.

The United Soybean Board recently announced an initiative with the National Corn Growers Association and the National Pork Board, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities to establish financial and technical assistance for corn and soybean farmers who adopt cover crops.

Other initiatives like the Bayer Carbon Program pay growers to adopt cover crops and reduced tillage practices in order to help reduce their carbon footprint. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol helps track producer’s implementation of some of these conservation practices and increase transparency on U.S. cotton’s road to the retailer.

Throughout the ag industry, farmer-initiated field conservation efforts have taken root and are becoming part of the culture. Much of that began in the Delta.

One of the developments I have followed closely is the understanding that cover crop selection is improving soil health and, in some cases, can prescriptively help growers solve problems in the field.

Clover, vetch, peas, beans and lupines help lock nitrogen in the soil. Marigold, mustard, sudangrass and radishes contain biofumigants that have been shown potential to reduce nematodes.

All cover crops help increase biomass and organic matter in the field. The diverse microbial communities foster good soil health - the cover helps reduce weed growth, increase moisture retainment and reduce soil erosion.

Incorporating livestock into cover cropping systems is another notable addition to Midsouth cover cropping. Adding livestock is not only an additional source of revenue but also reduces the need for mechanical termination and promotes nutrient cycling because of manure deposition.

Midsouth farmers are innovative and always coming up with new ways to increase their productivity, which is especially challenging as they lose vital tools for weed and pest control.

While cover crops are not the end-all for every problem we face in the field, the system does provide some needed help. Collaborative efforts between Extension, ARS and crop protection companies are helping spread what we’ve learned in the Midsouth to other producers outside of the Delta.

The Midsouth region is at the forefront of pioneering advancements in cover cropping practices. It points to the region’s commitment to conservation and improved soil health.

From those early days when researchers and cooperative growers began looking at how they could improve their land – before carbon credits were even a thing – Midsouth growers had their heads in the game.

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