field of cover crops and old cornstalks Kris Vance, NRCS
STAY POSITIVE: If your cover crops don’t look this good the first time around, don’t get discouraged, soil conservation experts say.

5 more tips for first-time cover croppers

Here are five more pieces of advice that could help you have a good experience as you begin growing cover crops.

You recently read five tips for first-time cover croppers. Here are five more tips. Together, these 10 actions make a detailed list of things to consider when planting cover crops for the first time. In fact, each one of these items could be broken down into five to 10 sub-items that delve into the topic even more. 

The level of strategy and planning an experienced cover cropper puts into the cover crop’s success is huge. 

This information was prepared by the Indiana Conservation Partnership. It’s led by Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, including: Don Donovan, Clint Harrison, Amanda Kautz, Derek Schmitt and Brian Musser, district conservationists; Susannah Hinds, grazing lands specialist; Stephanie McLain, state soil health specialist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; Victor Shelton, grazing specialist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist.

5 more tips
Use these tips as a jumping-off point to add cover crops to your operation.

1. Build your team. People say it’s essential to have an experienced cover crop mentor. Why not build a team? An experienced cover crop mentor would be an essential part of that team, but don’t forget about your local conservation staff, spouse and farming partners. Also, your agronomist and chemical person need to be on this team.

Don’t forget about yourself. Every team has a leader and final decision-maker — that is you! Don’t be passive; take an active part on your team to learn as much as you can from others, go to field days and ask hard questions. Your team can grow and change as you progress.

2. Always learn. This isn’t just at field days or conferences. Get out of the truck and observe what’s going on in your own fields. Take a shovel whenever you go outside. See how your cover crop is growing. Scout for potential weed or pest issues. Dig holes and examine the roots underground. Look at soil structure; you’ll see a difference in the improved structure of cover-cropped fields.

3. Don’t get discouraged. If something doesn’t work, re-evaluate to see what can be done differently. Growing cover crops successfully is about understanding risks and not being afraid to try. If you have a bad year, don’t give up. Remember that all crops, including cover crops, aren’t perfect. This process is not a one and done. Imagine if you had given up on growing corn the first year it didn’t go exactly as planned. This is your new mindset: Cover crops are part of my cropping system. I will find a way to a solution.

4. Be strategic in trying this new practice. Treat your cover crops like you treat your cash crop. Seed a slightly earlier-season cash crop for earlier harvest and better cover crop establishment. Be aware of the residual herbicides you use and carryover potential.

5. Understand that cover crop success is only as good as the following cash crop. Make sure your harvest equipment is properly set up to distribute residue evenly in the fall. Also, good planter setup is essential in the spring. Follow the planter the first spring and check for uniform planting depths, good slot closure and consistent seed spacing when you’re planting into a field where there was a cover crop.

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