More About Conservation Agriculture Practices

Those of you who read the articles posted on this website probably feel that an inordinate amount of words are written about subjects related to conservation agriculture. Your opinions and thoughts on this subject are certainly important and may be correct, but there is a reason for this–i.e., all crop producers should realize that their production practices must be sustainable in order for them to be profitable and to meet present and future regulations regarding crop production in the U.S.

Although agriculture may be assigned an unfair amount of responsibility for mitigating Greenhouse Gas [GHG] emissions into the atmosphere [see earlier article on this website], it still behooves agricultural producers to do their part in countering their perceived major contribution to climate change. A much-touted practice for addressing this goal is to incorporate cover crops [Click here to access a Cover Crops White Paper on this website] into a cropping system between summer cash crops. Below are links to several articles that contain information that will be helpful when doing this.

Programs help you get started in sustainable agriculture by Amber Hart [FarmProgress]. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency [FSA] and the Natural Resources Conservation Service [NRCS] can assist producers in developing conservation programs that will increase soil health and enhance the productivity of their crop fields.

Key Considerations as You Start Your Cover Crop Journey [USB]. This article provides a list of things to consider before incorporating cover crops [CC] into a conservation production system.

Making cover crops cost effective and profitable by John Hart [FarmProgress]. There is no doubt that CC’s provide many agronomic benefits, but it is difficult to economically justify their use in the short term. Thus, ways to make CC’s cost effective in the short-term are of paramount importance if producers are to adopt them on a large scale. This likely will involve: 1) choosing a CC species or species mix that will help with nutrient cycling and result in reduced fertilizer inputs to the following cash crop; 2) use of available tools and calculators that are available to select the appropriate CC species or species mix along with the proper seeding rate for and nutrient contribution from the used CC; and 3) participation in a cost-share program administered by a state or federal government agency.

Maximize legumes as cover crops by John Hart [FarmProgress]. The biomass from legume species such as hairy vetch and crimson clover provide nitrogen [N] to a following cash crop such as corn. However, maximum N accumulation in legumes usually occurs at flowering, and this stage of the legume CC usually occurs too late to provide maximum N benefit to an early-planted grain crop. Thus, research is needed to determine which legume CC species will bloom early enough to provide maximum N benefit to a following early-planted summer grain crop so that N fertilizer applications to the summer grain crop can be maximally reduced.

What does future of cover crop seeding look like? by Mindy Ward [FarmProgress]. This article provides information about using drones, a harvest seeder, and robots as CC seeding options.

The U.S. soybean producer-funded United Soybean Board [USB] has published several fact sheets that provide information about how soybean producers can use and manage CC’s to specifically aid in weed control. Technical content for all of these articles was provided by Alyssa Essman and Dr. Mark Loux, The Ohio State Univ., and Dr. Bill Johnson, Purdue Univ. Links to these articles follow.

Cover Crops for Weed Management: Species Selection. As stated in this article, it is important to identify the goal or goals of using a CC since species selection will largely determine the outcome from use of the CC. When selecting a CC species specifically for weed management/suppression, CC species that produce a high amount of biomass and provide maximum ground cover are the most effective.

Cover Crops for Weed Management: Establishment. If maximum CC biomass accumulation is the goal, then timely CC planting and establishment are paramount. This requires that a producer use the proven best planting method for and highest quality seed of the CC species. Also, uniform CC stands will usually provide the greatest weed suppression, so managing CC’s so that their stands are uniform is imperative.

Cover Crops for Weed Management: Herbicide Persistence and Carryover to Cover Crops. With the increasing occurrence of herbicide-resistant weeds in U.S. crops, producers are increasingly relying on residual herbicides [many in premixes that contain ingredients with multiple modes of action] to control weeds that plague crops. This article provides information about how these residual herbicides used before CC establishment can interfere with the growth and development of a particular CC species, or conversely, which ones can be used preceding a particular CC species. Since the successful establishment of any CC species is an important factor in cover crop adoption, consideration of residual herbicide choice for a summer crop must also consider how the chosen herbicide will affect a CC that is selected to follow the summer crop.

Cover Crops for Weed Management: Termination. The killing of CC’s that precede a summer cash crop must take into account the following.

•    Will the method of CC termination–e.g. natural, mechanical, chemical–effectively kill it/prevent it from competing with the summer cash crop?

•    Will the timing of CC termination result in its maximum effectiveness at achieving the desired goal from its use?

Information in this linked article can be used to help answer these questions.

Reduced tillage practices–e.g. minimum and no-till–are promoted to enhance conservation agriculture. Click here to access a Tillage White Paper on this website that provides information about the various reduced tillage practices and how their adoption will mesh with conservation agriculture goals.

Click here for a USB resource titled “Implementing different tillage practices” that has additional information about the adoption of the different tillage practices that can be used in a conservation production system.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, Apr. 2024,