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Farmers who use cover crops insist that water disappears faster in their fields

Farmers who use cover crops insist that water disappears faster in their fields
No one claims it's a substitute for tile, but several years in cover crops may change how well water moves in the soil.

Mark Kingma may farm primarily sandy soils near DeMotte, but some of them are dark sands with a high water table. He can still have issues with drainage in those types of soils.

A longtime no-tiller, Kingma began trying cover crops in 2010. He now plants several hundred acres of cover crops each fall. While there are several reasons to do this, he’s found one advantage that might not be on everybody’s list of benefits. He believes that after cover crops become part of the system and soil structure improves, water moves through the soil differently. The big plus is that water gets into the soil faster.

WATER WOES: Cover crops won’t replace tile and won’t completely prevent ponding and crop injury in low areas of a field, Dan Perkins says. But improved soil structure can help water infiltrate faster.

“I saw a real good example of it a year ago,” Kingma relates. “I split a farm, and part of it was seeded to a cover crop and part of it wasn’t.

“In June the next year we got a 5-inch rain. Twelve hours after the big rain, water was standing on the part of the field where there hadn’t been a cover crop. Where there was a cover crop, there was definitely less water standing. It was obvious that more water was ponding on top and slower to move in on the ground where I hadn’t used a cover crop.”

Farther south, near Rensselaer, Gerrett Dobson reports similar findings. He hasn’t used cover crops as long as Kingma, but is beginning to experiment with them more now than in the past.

“I’ve noticed that as well after big rains,” he says. “And it seems to happen every time. I will find much less water standing a few hours after a big rain on fields where I used cover crops compared to where I didn’t use them. It’s obvious that the water gets into the soil faster in the areas where there were cover crops.”

Dan Perkins calls it better infiltration. It’s a function of improving soil structure, notes Perkins, with the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s also a local watershed director and Indiana Certified Crop Adviser. Better water infiltration typically means less runoff of water after a big rain, he concludes.

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