7 Mile Creek farmers planted nearly 1100 acres of cover crops this summer and fall – up from just over 50 in 2015.

A cover crop is a crop (often a mixture of things like rye, oats, turnips, radishes, canola, clover and vetch) that is planted in the late summer or fall into the main cash crop (corn or soybeans) or just after harvest. Some cover crops provide primarily soil erosion protection in the fall. Others are winter hardy and green-up right away in the spring providing additional water quality benefits to 7 Mile Creek. The benefits of the cover crop depend on the mixture, but range from reducing nitrate loss to providing forage for grazing animals and lots of things in between like reducing soil erosion, reducing need for fertilizer, building soil organic matter, improving infiltration, and reducing the volume of water run-off during the critical spring thaw. They’re like the utility player of farm conservation.

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This two species cover crop mixture was seeded into standing corn in August using a modified high boy sprayer.

Farmers often worry about getting cover crops established in the fall due to Minnesota’s short growing season, but our farmers have shown that with the right equipment, planning, and a little luck from mother nature cover crops can work.

There tends a couple years at the beginning that cover crops don’t pencil out, since it takes a few years for soil organic matter to build up sufficiently to replace some fertilizer inputs. Within 3-5 years, cover crops improve profitability in most fields by allowing the farmer to cut fertilizer costs.

This mixture of cereal rye and radishes was seeded in August following a crop of canning peas and a tiling project.

The 7 Mile Creek Watershed Partnership offers financial and technical assistance to farmers interested in trying cover crops – we contribute at least $30/acre, and sometimes more. Contact Karen or Eric for more details!