Simply put, area farmer Tim Little said it’s a way to improve soil health.
Little is one of 15 farmers from the region who has partnered with the Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) on experimenting with cover crops this winter.
“One of the ways you can improve soil health is to keep something growing on it for as long as possible,” he said.
Cover crops are planted between cash crop seasons to keep living cover on the landscape. Little previously experimented with cover crops two years ago on a smaller plot of land he owns outside of Dundas.
As part of the project with the CRWP, he is now working with the cover cops on the land he rents 10 miles north of Faribault.
“We planted the cover crop seed in early September in standing corn,” he said.
Little said the seeds get established, and after harvesting the corn, the cover crops then will receive more sunlight and will begin to take off.
Three months into the project, Little said he is uncertain as to how things are going.
“I believe this year was the perfect year to do it because of the moisture levels we had,” he said.
Little said he is hopeful he will see improvement of the cover crops — radishes, rye grass and clover — in the spring.
He believes a project such as this will help with soil structure and erosion, and he sees it as a step in the direction of a more conservationist approach to farming.
“We can’t keep farming like our dads did,” he said.
CRWP program manager Aaron Wills said this is the first year for the cover crop initiative.
“The reason we did it stems from last year when we spent a lot of time sitting down and meeting with farmers,” he said. “We talked about the range of possible management practices that could be beneficial for water quality — cover crops was the one they were most interested in.”
Wills said CRWP is currently tracking the data with each of the cover crop projects so they can measure the results.
“Each farmer did it differently, planted at different times or used a different method,” he said. “It’s an experiment for both the farmers and for us.”
Wills indicated that no matter what the results, CRWP plans on implementing the program again in 2016.