Pulse School: Targeted cover crop use could reduce soil erosion

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Erosion could be an issue for pulse crop fields after harvest, especially if the header was set very low and there’s minimal residue leftover.

Edible beans in particular are a tricky crop for “field aftercare” as there is very little residue left over, and harvest requires undercutting, increasing the potential for soil wind erosion.

Scott Gillespie, agronomist at Plants Dig Soil Consulting, joins Kara Oosterhuis in the field to discuss cover cropping options after pulse crops in Western Canada for this Pulse School episode.

“The best option is going to be using fall rye, because it can germinate in almost anything, in any temperature, and even grow in snow,” says Gillespie. “The biggest drawback to the fall rye is managing it the following spring — it can do too good of a job in some cases, and cause a big mat of roots that are hard to kill in the spring unless you have a plan in place.”

Prior to, or at harvest is the time to start thinking about a cover crop and to have that termination plan in place. Harvest time is busy, of course, but cover cropping will require forethought and commitment.

“Having a plan, and being committed to it, is the most important thing, and having the machinery and seed in place is critical,” says Gillespie.

If the equipment allows, some cover crops could be planted between bean swaths, Gillespie suggests, adding that any little bit of growth will help prevent erosion, even while swaths are drying.

In terms of planting date and chances of frost, winter wheat is probably the least hardy, says Gillespie, followed by winter triticale, then fall rye.

However, a big consideration for dryland operations is that cover crops will require quite a bit of moisture, so Gillespie suggests a spring crop that is quick to germinate like barley, oats, or wheat.

Another main message Gillespie wants farmers to consider is that cover cropping doesn’t have to happen every year, and “it doesn’t necessarily have to be the entire field,” he adds. Cover crops can be targeted to a field’s worst areas like sandy spots of hilltops.

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