While there was no time to build an ark to prepare for the most recent “Bomb Cyclone” that hit Nebraska and other areas of the Midwest, the Noah Seim family said one of their fields in Merrick County in central Nebraska successfully braved the storm because they had established a healthy stand of rye as a cover crop.
“First, I want to preface that we had flooding, but we did not have near the flooding other areas had,” Noah Seim said. “We have nothing to complain about here.”
“What we did have was an 80 that dad planted to soybeans last year, three miles west of the home place,” Seim said. “We drilled a cover crop of predominantly cereal rye in the mix right behind the combine into that field. That farm sits right along Prairie Creek.”
It turns out that cover crop ended up serving as sort of an “ark” for Noah’s bean field following the severe weather Nebraska had this past March.
“The storm went through here and it just rained and rained and rained. Our ground was frozen, it could not take barely anything in at all. The creek came out of its banks and out of 75 farmable acres, 70 of them were underwater. It probably took about five days before the water was off the bottom end of the field. The rye survived, and the field came out of it. I cannot imagine what that field would have looked like if the rye had not been there,” Seim said.
Aaron Hird, soil health specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service said cover crops can provide many benefits to cropland. While not typically planted to prevent damage from flooding, he’s noted several Nebraska crop fields that would have fared far worse after March’s severe weather if not for having a cover crop established.
“Cover crops protect the soil with living plant vegetation above and below ground. That protects the surface of the soil from heat, wind, rain - and in the case of Noah’s field - flooding,” Hird said.
“Crop residue, such as corn stalks, left after harvest can provide the soil some protection from erosion. But during the recent flooding, farmers noticed that crop residue would wash or float away. Since cover crops are growing in the soil, they don’t wash away and their roots hold the soil,” Hird said.
That was the scenario that played out on Seim’s cropland. Noah said, “The rye held everything in place. The soil stayed put and only the soybean residue had been washed around.”
Hird works with farmers across Nebraska and knows that not all flooded acres will be able to be planted this year. Instead of leaving those acres exposed and vulnerable to further damaged from wind, heat and water, Hird encourages producers to plant a cover crop.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has funding available for producers whose cropland was damaged by the blizzard and flooding to plant cover crops. Applications for this funding are being accepted at NRCS field offices until June 21.
Hird said, “For Nebraska’s cropland that suffered significant damage, planting a cover crop can be a great way to help protect fields and help restore productivity.”
Seim agrees. When he plants the field that flooded this spring to corn, he also has plans to plant another cover crop after the corn is about a foot tall.
“That flooded field will go into commercial corn this year,” he said. “We will interseed a mix of 6 pounds of cereal rye and four pounds of red clover and will plant it at the V-4 stage. We are looking forward to seeing how things go this year and are so thankful for that rye crop.”