A recent study by Indiana's conservation partners, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, determined that about a million acres of cover crops were grown in Indiana this past winter. The number was derived from transect studies of actual cover crops growing in fields. The transects were carried out by conservation partners across the state.
Barry Fisher, NRCS state agronomist and precision farming specialist, says it's good to finally know how many acres are out there. He believes it's likely Indiana hit a million acres two years ago. However, transects weren't done then so there is no way to document it.
Whether or not cover crops will remain at that level for the 2015-2016 year is another story, Fisher says. He suspects the number might drop, primarily for two reasons. For one, some cover crops did not survive the winter well. "Cereal rye performed well, but some of the other crops didn't," he notes.
The other reason is economics – farmers are looking to cut inputs.
Fisher believes that they still have benefit. "In fact this is probably when you could justify them most because you need to be more efficient with all inputs," he says. However, not everyone looks at the situation in that light.
One thing that concerns Fisher right now is that herbicide carryover may be factoring in to how well cover crops get established in the fall and how well they grow.
"You need to read herbicide labels carefully on residual herbicides, especially if you are applying them on crops now this late in the season," he says. "If you're wanting to come back with cover crops, you need to know what the label says about how long of a gap there needs to be between application and planting of whatever crop you are looking at."
Brassicas tend to be more sensitive to residual herbicides, because most of them are geared to broadleaf weeds, and brassicas are broadleaves, he says.
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