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Farmers Starting to Mix It Up: Cover Crop "Cocktails"

PHOTO: As more farmers across the state and the country turn to cover crops, the latest trend of mixing species can have an even greater impact. Photo credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service.
PHOTO: As more farmers across the state and the country turn to cover crops, the latest trend of mixing species can have an even greater impact. Photo credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service.
January 20, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - The use of cover crops is having positive effects on the environment and also on the bottom line for farmers - and it appears the latest trend will be even more beneficial. Cover crops are used in conjunction with cash crops mainly to help limit nutrient runoff and erosion on those acres over the off-season.

At the Gabe Brown Ranch, cover crops are now used on all acres every year, and Brown said the next major shift will be to mixing species.

"In many areas, they're using monoculture cover crops, either rye or rye-grass. Well, what we're finding is that by adding other species to those mixes - such as a legume or a brassica, like radish - the benefit will increase substantially. So, we're going to see a big increase in producers using poly-culture covers," he predicted.

While cover crop use is increasing, they are currently found on just a tiny fraction of cropland in the nation. Brown said he expects that to change as more farmers realize the positive impact on water quality and soil health. It can also really pay off to use cover crops along with other land conservation and stewardship practices, he noted.

"Our average yields are about 25 percent higher than county average and yet, we're doing this for a fraction of the cost. So, we're putting many more dollars in our pockets," Brown said. "But along with that, the important thing to me is, we're regenerating these resources, making them healthier for a future generation."

Brown's operation is in North Dakota, but he said the strategies for cover crops are universal - producers just need to match up the best species for their local growing conditions.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX