Experts consider pros and cons of cover crops

Cover crops are still a split decision in the agricultural world, mostly because it is hard to determine the return on investment of using them.

“It’s hard to calculate a monetary value for what the return on investment will be, and that’s tough for some growers to stomach, especially in a tight financial year,” Kaleb Hellwig, BASF's innovation specialist, said.

Hellwig believes the benefits outweigh the uncertainty of return on investment.

“Cover crops help manage soil erosion," he said. "They can improve water and soil quality while increasing organic matter. That makes it easier for soil to absorb water and retain it, which helps with drought mitigation. All of these things can be helpful to a grower’s bottom line during the regular growing season.”

BASF Technical Crop Production Specialist AJ Woodyard said cover crops are beneficial if planted at the right time.

“Cover crops need moisture to germinate," Woodyard said. "In a dry environment, growers need to ensure that they are planting cover crops at a time when the crops will still receive rain. In order for the cover crops to be most effective, they also need to be established and actively growing before the weather gets too cold. Typically seeding in the late August, early September time frame is best.”

Common blends of cover crops in the Midwest include annual rye grass, Cereal rye, tillage radishes and crimson clover. These crops need to be burned down using combinations of products like Verdict herbicide and glyphosate for corn fields. 

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