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Reports Urge More Farmers to Take Cover

PHOTO: Cover crops are good for farmers' bottom lines as well as rivers. Two new reports from the National Wildlife Federation find that the use of cover crops is growing, but still just a fraction of the potential. Photo courtesy NWF.
PHOTO: Cover crops are good for farmers' bottom lines as well as rivers. Two new reports from the National Wildlife Federation find that the use of cover crops is growing, but still just a fraction of the potential. Photo courtesy NWF.
October 1, 2013

BILLINGS, Mont. - Growing in the off-season can bring more cash to the crop season. Two new reports from the National Wildlife Federation make the case that cover crops, which are growing in popularity, are a big plus to farmers' bottom lines, and they bring environmental benefits as well.

Report author Lara Bryant, agriculture program coordinator for the NWF, explained the benefits for Montana farmers.

"They keep the nutrients on the ground and out of streams," she said. "They improve the quality of the soil, so over time, you'll see improved yields in the crops. And they also sequester a lot of carbon."

Clover, oats, radishes and ryes are examples of crops that can be grown when fields would normally be fallow; choices depend on the types of cash crops in rotation, as well as climate and management requirements. The reports recommend better government tracking of cover crops, along with satellite imaging to track benefits to waterways.

Bryant said that, while most cover crops are not of cash value, Montana farmers have been creative.

"You'll find that with Northern Great Plains farmers, you'll have farmers that graze the cover crop," she related. "So, it has forage benefits."

In some areas of the country, water treatment facilities are paying farmers to sow cover crops because they help keep phosphorus from running off the land and into those facilities.

The reports, "Counting Cover Crops," and "Clean Water Grows," are available at NWF.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT