Farming Forward: Practical considerations for cover crops to improve soil health and reduce inputs

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Cover crops can be a non-starter in dry areas of the Prairies — or are they?

A lack of moisture is definitely a concern when working to establish cover crops; however, over the long term, farmers Derek and Tannis Axten of Axten Farms at Minton, Sask., are finding covers build soil water holding capacity.

That’s not the only advantage of using cover crops, either, as the Axtens are realizing input reductions, better weed management, and better soil aggregate stability, too.

Derek explains that they don’t use cover crops on every acre, every year. There has to be a crop off early enough in the year and moisture in the forecast — a tall order for some places. They’ve learned some key lessons on that, and also that single-species covers work best for their farm.

Tannis says they consider each field’s needs. If the land was in pulses, it may have low crop residue, or a deeper rooted crop might be needed for nutrient cycling or breaking up compaction. It’s all about improving each field, she says.

They’ve learned some real lessons in over a decade of using cover crops, including how it’s important to think about using principles — not specifics — when adapting a practice to your own farm. Watch below to hear more of how the Axtens are incorporating cover crops in to rotation! 

Farming Forward is a video series brought to you by Farmers for Climate Solutions’ Farm Resilience Mentorship Program and the Farm Learning Hub. Visit the hub to learn more about events in your area and to access more resources about building soil health.

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