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Kill your cover crop now? Daniel Perkins says 'no way!'

Kill your cover crop now? Daniel Perkins says 'no way!'
Farmers who seeded cover crops early concerned about tall growth.

By Tom J. Bechman

Some pictures of cover crops sown for only five to six weeks coming out of places like northwest Indiana where many crops were devastated earlier are almost unbelievable.

Related: Get to know the 'Cover Crop Guy'

The cover crops, planted for barely over a month, are lush and growing taller each day. That's because since crops were already abandoned in some cases cover crops could be planted early. Many cover crops prefer to be planted earlier than what is usually possible after row crop harvest.

Lush growth: This is not the field Perkins visited, but has similar lush growth. He insists that it won't be a problem next spring to burn down.

The question now is whether the picture is beautiful or scary, says Daniel Perkins, the self-proclaimed cover crop guy and coordinator of the Iroquois Watershed and based in the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District Office.

Perkins says he understands the sentiment. He has checked out fields that are already lush with cover crops. He's actually had farmers ask him if they should kill the cover this fall since it is so tall. Their concern is if it is extremely tall next spring and they burn it down, it may be difficult to plant into it.

"I understand their point, but today we have planting equipment that can plant into almost anything," he says. "The problem is that if you kill it this fall, you lose at least half of the potential benefits coming from the investment you made in the cover crop. I strongly believe that even if cover crops are tall already this fall, you can handle them next spring and reap the benefits. Leave them alone and don't touch them this fall."

Related: Cover crops are silver lining at epicenter of Indiana flood damage

One field that Perkins has visited was seeded after mid-August. One week ago the mix of radishes, oats and cereal rye was already several inches high, with radish roots running several inches deep.

"That's what you want because you want to break up soil compaction," he says.

Perkins says that radishes and oats are high in nitrogen compared to carbon. They will freeze out over winter and residue will melt away. If you shoot to kill the cereal rye at about a foot tall next spring, you will get the most benefit from the cover.

You can view his video walking this particular field on You Tube. To reach Perkins, email: [email protected]

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