Treat cover crops like a real crop

We cover a lot of different agronomy topics here on RealAgriculture, but one area that doesn’t get attention all the time is cover crops.

Anne Verhallen, soil specialist at OMAFRA, joins Bernard Tobin to discuss her recent presentation at Ontario Agriculture Conference, and why cover crop agronomy isn’t talked about all that often.

“I think there’s a couple reasons; one is that right off the bat, cover crops seem to be one of those things that we ‘add in’, they’re an ‘extra’,” says Verhallen. “I don’t think we always give them their due, but the thing you have to consider is, we’re spending money, in terms of actual seed costs, and also labour costs. I think it’s worth looking at the agronomy and doing the best job we possibly can.”

What does that look like? Verhallen says she’s compiled a short list of the top tips from experienced cover crop growers: treat it like a cash crop; treat it seriously; plant it well; get good establishment; and, make your money work for you.

Verhallen’s issue with cover crop agronomy is that there are pieces of information that are missing.

“Let’s take a step back, when we talk about crop agronomy, we’ve got more than 100 years of actual research and thousands of site years. When we talk cover crop agronomy and how to make it work better, we really don’t have that level of research data, and while we have millennia of experience in growing cover crops, that’s not necessarily growing cover crops the modern way.”

That being said, there are basic principles that can still be taken from regular agronomy and applied to cover crop agronomy, says Verhallen. Furthermore, decision-making tools that are available can help with species selection, establishment, termination, where the species will fit depending on your location, that’s all backed up with weather data specific to Ontario.

Check out the full conversation for even more of Verhallen’s list of resources, story continues below player:

Another thing to consider with cover crop agronomy is that Verhallen would like to see the drill more often to seed. “Broadcasting and incorporation works fine, but you have to be selective about where it fits in the situation,” she says. Consistency of the depth of seed, and establishing a cover crop in an even pattern across the field makes for ease later on in the season, which you just can’t get with broadcasting.

A weed control plan and fertility plan have to be part of the process too. Verhallen’s presentation is jam-packed full of tips and tricks for weed control, nutrient cycling, the fit for manure, and how all the details come together for a successful cover crop system.

You can view Verhallen’s presentation on the Ontario Agricultural Conference website under the on demand sessions.

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