Out of adversity, farm families strive to make something better.
In 2019, that “something” has been incorporating cover crops into the rotation.
Farmers in the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota planted something new this year: sorghum-sudangrass, rye, clover, radish, turnip, flax, oats, common vetch, sunflower, millet, field pea and more as cover crops.
In general, cover crops have been better accepted west of the Missouri River, but this year with all of the Prevented Planting acres, farmers across the northern U.S. needed to get their soils covered.
A small carrot was offered – a $15 per acre payment when cover crops were planted by Aug. 1 with the intent to harvest. A bigger carrot was offered too – haying or grazing Prevented Planting (PP) acres was allowed after Sept. 1 rather than Nov. 1.
Cold and wet conditions in 2019 made it impossible to plant land that had been farmed for as long as many people in these parts can remember. South Dakota farmers reported over 3.87 million acres of PP. Minnesota farmers said 1.17 million acres were not planted.
North Dakota farmers had 830,650 acres of PP, much lower than in 2013, when the state had over 4 million acres that were not planted, or 2011 when there were 5.6 million acres of PP. Montana had 57,500 acres of PP in 2019, according to USDA.
In this year of PP, the soil regeneration movement has swept across the region. U.S. farmers planted 4.7 million acres of cover crops, as of Aug. 22, or about 24 percent of the 19.8 million U.S. PP acres.
The challenge of growing cover crops up north has been the short growing season. It’s difficult to get the seed germinated and growing following the harvest of soybeans and corn.
This year, the cover crops were planted earlier than normal, and that’s probably a big reason why they look so good – plus there’s been plenty of moisture to help cover crops grow.
Cover crops offer so many benefits. They cover the soil to prevent soil or water erosion. They offer supplemental grazing and reduce soil compaction.
Cover crops also increase the activity of good soil microorganisms and bacteria, reduce weed populations, and should make a nice seed bed for next year. According to NDSU, past history in North Dakota has found that farmers that had a cover crop planted on their PP acres were much less likely to have PP acres the next year.
“Without something using up water in the PP fields, there is a strong possibility that PP would be repeated if precipitation next spring is close to normal,” according to the NDSU, “Cover Crops for Prevent Planting” article for July 4, 2019.
We hope and pray that next year won’t be as wet for most of us. The farm fields in the northern states are not set up for over-4 inch rainfalls occurring in a matter of hours or days.
Yet there are always positives and one of the positives of the 2019 year has been the opportunity for farmers to try growing cover crops. It is always fun to experiment with something new, and hopefully farmers will have gained the knowledge they need to incorporate cover crops into the regular growing season.