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3 reasons to consider cover crops if rain forces unplanted acres

3 reasons to consider cover crops if rain forces unplanted acres
Planting cover crops might help make the best of a bad situation.

Excessive rainfall and prolonged ponding or flooding that occurs in late spring or early summer may result in some unplanted fields during a typical growing season. Years like 2015 produced many more such fields than normal. Unfortunately, there may be more fields than average again this year unless the weather pattern straightens out and stays that way.

Deciding not to plant is a tough decision that involves economic considerations. Do you have crop insurance? Is prevented planting part of your coverage?

PROVIDE FOR POLLINATORS: Growing cover crops on land that can’t be planted because it was too wet can aid bees during the season. This works if the cover crop flowers. (Photo courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service)

If so, then first and foremost, you will need to check the rules on dates and what can be done with the field after you decide to accept coverage for prevented planting. In cases where there are no conflicts, cover crops may be a way to gain some benefits for your soil, even though you didn’t get to grow a crop.

Flooding and erosion can remove valuable topsoil, nutrients, organic matter and soil organisms. To rebuild lost productive capacity and improve soil health, growing a cover crop for the remainder of the season is crucial.

Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, along with a team of NRCS specialists, prepared this information. The NRCS team was aided by members of the Indiana Conservation Partnership. Here are three benefits to having cover crops planted on land left idle due to too much rain early.

1. Grow something green that's not weeds.

Having something green and growing during all times of the year is a key concept for improving soil health. It helps build soil organic matter.

2. Protect the soil.

Protecting the soil is important, especially if the field is prone to soil erosion by water. Improving water and nutrient cycling is another advantage you can pick up from seeding and growing cover crops in areas that can’t be planted.

You will need to determine the best time for seeding. Some people seeded early last year and then considered burning down the cover crop in the fall because it got so big. However, agronomists advised against burning it down in the fall.

3. Benefit pollinators with flowers.

Roger Wenning, Decatur County, is a big believer in the value of cover crops that flower for pollinators. He saw lots of activity this spring when he let crimson clover grow and bloom as a cover crop before killing it.

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