After all the rain we've had recently, as you drive around you might wonder what that bright green crop is on some farm fields. What you're likely seeing is a field planted with cover crops.
Cover crops are plants such as annual ryegrass, winter (cereal) rye, radish and clovers that are usually planted after fall harvest. These plants keep living cover on the landscape until the following spring's planting of cash crops. Cover crops improve water quality by keeping nutrients in the soil and by keeping the soil in the field.
While there are also many soil quality improvements farmers are realizing by including cover crops, there is also much to learn.
For example, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are in the second year of helping eight farmers in Rice and Goodhue counties gain hands-on experience planting cover crops into standing corn in June. The research study seeks to determine if this practice improves the chances for the cover crop to become established. The ability of the cover crop to keep nutrients from leaching out of the soil into drain tiles and keep the soil in place in the field during the early part of the growing season would be valuable benefits.
The study will also address whether seeding the cover crop in June reduces the corn yield and help determine the best methods for planting cover crops at that time.