Minnesota farmers discover the rewards of cover crops
Published: January 28, 2020
Category: Regenerative Agriculture, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter
The Midwest has been beset by floods this past year, exacerbating an erosion problem stemming from decades of industrial agriculture’s mono-cropping. But seven farmers near Dundas and Faribault, Minnesota, are going against the centuries-old practice of fall tilling (leaving fields bare all winter)—instead they’re planting cereal rye and tillage radishes.
They’re thrilled to find earthworms in abundance; bound, fertile soil that absorbs water; warmer field temperatures; and less erosion.
“It was like [cover crops] put the earthworms on steroids,” said grower Tim Little. “To me it’s the only bright spot in ag right now…If we could get everybody to do this, we could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
The cover crops rot in the ground, leaving behind air, food, and waterways, and weaving the surface together. Microbes feed on the sugars, forming a lively ecosystem. But old habits don’t change easily; only 1 percent of fields might be cover cropping.
“You were considered a poor farmer if when you were done plowing you could see any cornstalks,” said Dundas farmer John Becker.
Additionally, financial returns are not guaranteed—timing the planting is critical in Minnesota’s short growing season. Those obstacles can be minimized as you learn the ropes, the “late career converts” say. The farmers received grants to help fund cover crop seed costs.
“It’s transparently beneficial for society. It’s not transparently beneficial for an individual farm enterprise,” said Anna Cates, of University of Minnesota’s Office of Soil Health.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
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