If you have traveled on U.S. 23 south of Delaware in the past few weeks, you probably noticed the “Star Wars”-looking piece of farm equipment on the west side of the intersection of Cheshire Road and U.S. 23.
No, there is no alien invasion going on. This is simply an example of the latest technology to aid farmers and encourage the use of a well-established practice of covering the soil through the winter. The equipment is known as a Miller Hi-boy and is used to interseed cover crops into standing corn and other crops.
The drop-nozzles allow the seed to be interspersed and sown between the rows of growing crop prior to the crop’s harvest. By so doing, the seed gets an earlier germination and root development. Cover crops are most effective if they can be planted early enough to develop a deep root system and foliage above ground to reduce soil erosion.
The use of cover crops has long been considered an accepted practice for use on agricultural fields, and is becoming more popular with residential landowners as well. Cover crops feed the soil, adding organic matter and eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers. They also aerate the soil through root penetration, adding valuable spaces for air and water absorption.
By holding the soil in place through the winter, cover crops prevent soil erosion and the runoff of nutrient rich sediment. Cover crops also inhibit weed growth in the next season by shading and depriving the weeds of the sunlight they need for photosynthesis. Because they shade the soil, the soil remains cool, allowing the soil to hold more oxygen which, in turn, supports more valuable organisms in the soil.
Eric Niemeyer of Mad Max Farms is owner/operator of the Hi-boy seeder and a strong proponent of seeding cover crops. “We’ve got to keep our nutrients available for crop growth and not let them run off into our lakes and rivers. Cover crops have proven time and again that they assist in securing important nutrients in the soil,” said Niemeyer. Kyle Feucht, with Farm Credit Mid-America, indicated that he likes the long-term sustainability that cover crops provide to the environment. “It fits well with Farm Credit’s mission of keeping America’s rural economy strong.”
If you are an agricultural producer and haven’t begun using cover crops to build the health of your soil, consider the many benefits of this long-term, well-established practice. It benefits all of us. For more information, contact the Delaware SWCD at 740-368-1921 or go to www.delawareswcd.org.
Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.