The season of cover crop planting is coming to a close. Did you get any cover crops out in your fields this year? Cover crops can be expensive, and many farmers would rather spend their money on other inputs like fertilizer, chemicals, etc. This is a tough mentality to break. Benefits of implementing cover crops on your farm may not be seen as quickly as the benefits from an input application, but the long term benefits of cover crops are instrumental in keeping your soil healthy. Here are some of the benefits that implementing cover crops on your farm can do for you.
Keeping armor on the soil
Keeping a cover crop on your soil during the winter months will keep your soil armored, reducing the chances of both water and wind erosion from taking place on your farm. Once topsoil has left the field, it’s gone forever. Topsoil takes years to accumulate, so keeping it in its place is critical for your soil health. Having a cover crop growing out in your fields can help with that.
Storing leftover nutrients
Certain cover crops hold excess nutrients left in the soil from this year’s crop. This is a major benefit of cover crops. Without a living plant in the soil, excess nutrients have no place to be up-taken, so they often times flow with ground water and leave your farm. Think of all of the excess nutrients that you could be holding onto just through putting out a cover crop! Fertilizer isn’t cheap, and cover crops can help to make that fertilizer work more efficiently for you.
Increasing water-holding capacity and water infiltration
Cover crops increase soil organic matter. Increasing your soil organic matter can help in soil aggregation, which improves water-holding capacity and water infiltration in the soil. The living root in the soil from cover crops also helps with water-holding capacity and water infiltration while reducing compaction.
The majority of the midwest is based off of the corn/soybean system, largely because there isn’t truly a viable option for a third or fourth cash crop. Having only two species in your rotation is not ideal for microbial communities. Different types of microbes have an “appetite” for different types of root exudates from different plants, just like you and I have different tastes in food. So, implementing diversity through planting cover crops allows for different types of microbes to thrive where they may not have with just a steady diet of corn and soybeans.
These are just a few of the benefits that you could see from implementing cover crops on your farm. If you planted a cover crop this year, how did this planting season go for you? Did you try anything new? Did you stick with the old, tried and true covers that you’ve been seeding for years? Whatever this season looked like for you, it always helps to assign data to your practices to truly know what’s working and what isn’t on your farm. The team at Continuum Ag would love to help you with your data needs in actually seeing what your cover crop is doing for you. Because after all, you cant manage what you don’t measure!
How can cost-sharing help you help your land?
The Hardin County Soil Conservation District (SCD) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Savannah Field Office are working in partnership to help landowners in Hardin County conserve their soil, water, and other natural resources with cost-share funding provided by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other associated partners, Hardin County SCD and NRCS have helped to stimulate our County’s economy to the tune of an estimated $4.9 million dollars in the past 3 years.
Here are some photos of recently installed Ag BMPs on Hardin County farms:
Before & After photos of Exclusion Fencing along a creek
Before & After photos of a Heavy Use Area Protection Pad
Before & After photos of a Stream Access point
Before & After photos of a watering trough
Before & After photos of a Streambank Stabilization Project
Landowners in any County can apply for cost-share funding. There are a host of programs, both federal and state, that provide cost share funds for Ag BMPs. EQIP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, is the most commonly applied for federally funded program. It, like all other programs, is a reimbursement program, meaning that the landowner pays for the installation of the Ag BMPs up front, and NRCS reimburses the landowner after NRCS personnel ensure that the BMP was installed correctly. The reimbursement rate for this program is 75% cost share. That DOES NOT mean that the landowner willnecessarily receive 75% of his or her actual costs for installing a BMP. What it does mean is that the landowner will receive 75% of the statewide average cost of installing a BMP. It may cost $3500 on average to install a watering facility in Knox County, for example, while in Hawkins County it may cost closer to $2000 on average. NRCS takes the average cost of installing a watering facility over all 95 Tennessee counties and sets a “payment rate” for that practice each year. NRCS will reimburse a landowner up to this amount for installing that practice. These practices & associated rates are listed in NRCS’s “Payment Schedule”. NRCS publishes a new Payment Schedule each year to adjust for inflation and other variables. This way, we can tell a landowner exactly how much they will get paid for installing a practice, before they install it.
TDA uses this payment schedule as well for their cost share programs. TDA’s most commonly used program is the Agricultural Resources Conservation Fund (ARCF). Your District has to apply each year for funding from this program. The State Soil Conservation Committee is a TDA committee and directs a set amount of funds each year to each District who applies for ARCF funds. This is where your Board of Supervisors comes in. Your Board of Supervisors is responsible for then directing those funds to landowners in your County.
Depending on your situation, the Conservationist(s) will direct you to apply for one or more programs to increase your chances of getting your conservation plan funded with cost-share dollars. We walk you through the entire process to ensure your success. Please don't hesitate to call us with any questions you may have about our programs.
We can be reached at (731) 412-3104 or (731) 412-3106 Monday through Friday 8am - 4:30pm.
These websites will offer more information on most of our cost-share programs: