Thirsty cover crops consume valuable moisture in dry years

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When it comes to soil management, living roots produced by cover crops provide a laundry list of soil health benefits โ€” everything from building soil aggregates and pore spaces to improving soil infiltration and controlling wind and water erosion.

But those cover crops need water and as dry conditions persist in Western Canada, the U.S. Midwest and into Ontario, many farmers are reporting the benefits of cover crops are being challenged by their thirst for the valuable moisture needed to sustain and grow cash crops.

On the Agronomic Monday edition of RealAg Radio, host Shaun Haney and resident agronomist Peter Johnson shared reports from across the continent of how some farmers, including long-time cover crop converts, are struggling with the nurse crops’ want for water. Wisconsin farmer Tom Brenner reports that reduced rainfall in the state is causing cover crops to have a negative impact on the 2023 crop.

Johnson says farmers in Kansas and Western Canada understand well the tug-of war between the benefits and challenges of cover crops. “The problem is when you’re super short on moisture, and a cover crop uses some of that precious moisture, it can go all bad on the crop you’re trying to grow.”

Haney notes that moisture demand is one reason cover crops can be a tough sell for many farmers in Western Canada.

“It really shows the difference between West and East or the high rainfall areas and the low rainfall areas,” says Johnson. “Living roots are five times better than leftover residue any day of the week… But if they use that precious moisture and you don’t have enough they can really beat you up.”

Check out the full conversation on RealAg Radio below.

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