By Teresa DeMars
Minnesota’s Rice County farmers have been experimenting with planting cover crops out in the field and have been seeing the benefits. Producers reported improved soil health, including erosion control, increased infiltration, weed suppression and higher organic matter. Farmers also reported spending less on fuel and chemicals while in some cases, their yields have been increasing.
While the benefits are apparent, beginning to use cover crops within a cropping system requires a strong focus on crop management, as well as the right equipment and proper seed mix. The process can be complicated and may also require an investment in equipment. With the current state of economics in agriculture, this can be an obstacle to trying cover crops.
The Rice Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) hopes to simplify the process of planting cover crops for area farmers. The district’s new Cover Crop Custom Interseeding Program will provide custom seeding of cover crops. “We will do all the work, including providing the tractor, operator, and planting the seed,” said district manager Steve Pahs. “With our new cover crop interseeder and custom seed mix, it’s never been easier to try cover crops!”
The district will custom plant cover crops for a fee of $34 per acre, which includes the cost of the seed. The seed mix consists of annual ryegrass, Bayou kale and purple top turnip. Customers will also be required to refill the fuel in the tractor upon completion of seeding (or pay an additional fee for fuel).
The Rice SWCD also offers a Cover Crop Incentive Program that provides cost-share assistance to producers who are trying cover crops for the first time. Producers may receive up to $35 per acre for planting cover crops and must agree to a three-year installation.
After months of planning, the district commissioned Mike Peterson of Peterson Equipment near Northfield to build the new cover crop interseeder. An old spryer bar was recycled and used for the planting bar. A Gandy Orbit-Air Seeder were mounted to the bar to complete the planter.
“Cover crops can have a great impact on local water quality,” Pahs said. “It’s exciting to see farmers plant covers and then hear about the ways their soil changes for the better. Producers tell us they are seeing less erosion, much better infiltration after heavy rains, and even report better texture and smell of their soil. It’s getting healthy and that affects water quality for all of us.”