Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Plant Cover Crops Now!

Image of four inch oat sprouts used as cover crops

Cover crops are a great way to protect young native seeds and prevent soil erosion over the winter.

Cover crops are among the most valuable tools in the private landowner’s toolbox. They build healthy soil while protecting against erosion. The next week or two are pretty much last chance for those in central and southern Wisconsin to plant yet this fall.

Lots of Benefits

Cover crops are a fantastic companion crop when planted ahead of a late fall or early winter native seed planting. Oats, and rye are a great choice as they will hold the soil, preventing erosion over the winter. The will also provide a place for native seeds to settle into the soil during winer freeze and thaw cycles. Here is a short cover crop video from the NRCS East National Technology Support Center.

Another valuable service cover crops provide is as a green manure. They build organic mater in the soil, and because Wisconsin winters kill them, these plants will not re-emerge in the spring to compete with newly sprouting native species.

Soil contact is important. If you do not have access to a seed drill, try breaking up hard soils with a lawn aerator, raking the cover crop seeds in lightly after seeding. If the planting list not too big, cover newly seeded area with straw. Water newly planted seeds daily for a week, if possible. Otherwise, try to time seeding for just before a forecasted rain.

Image of native seed mix bag

There are native seed mixes to help solve a variety of soil management problems

Solving Problems

Native seed mixes fit into many conservation plans and they pair seamlessly with cover crops.  Whether on a high rocky ridge, woodland or wet meadow cover crops help establish native species that will greatly improve the conservation value of your property. Better wildlife habitat

In my case, there its a small drainage near our house that was not graded correctly during construction 25 years ago. When we moved in this spring, correcting the problem to keep water from flowing toward the foundation while reducing runoff was a priority. Native grasses and wildflowers with their deep roots made perfect  sense to remediate the lousy clay fill hauled in during construction.


January 2018

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Landowners Get Help from CSP

CSP poster encourage landowners to participate.

You probably know about the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and may already be participating. But there are more things you can do around the farm or ranch to improve your bottom line while helping the land. The Conservation Stewardship Program provides help for forest landowners, ranchers and farmers. Your application must be received by March 2, 2018 to be considered this year for this funding but year. Applications received later will be considered for the 2019 growing season.

Apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to improve your operation and land health. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses CSP to help private landowners build their business while using conservation practices that improve sustainability. NRCS plans to enroll up to 10 million acres in CSP in 2018.

How Does This Work?

CSP lets you earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities, including: cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips and pollinator habitat. These go hand in hand with maintaining active agriculture production on your land. CSP also helps you adopt new technologies and management practices such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage & planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Some of the benefits of CSP include: improved cattle gains per acre; increased crop yields; lower input costs; more and wider variety of wildlife. CSP activities can also improve drought resistance and storm water management.

The CSP website has a CSP Enhancements tool that lets you select your land use and conservation concern. Then it displays a list of recommended enhancement practices. There is a downloadable pdf file for each enhancement.

Contact your local USDA service center or visit for more information.

We’re Just Getting Started

CSP and CRP are by no means the only games in town. There are more programs that can help with both money and technical assistance.  The programs you choose will depend on your management goals; as well as current and planned land uses. Here is a listing of landowners programs, run by both governments and non-profit groups. You might just find the help you need for your next conservation project.


November 2017

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Prairie Strips Protect Soil

Prairie strip embedded in an agricultural (corn) watershed. Prairie strips increase nutrient and sediment retention, reduce runoff, and increase biodiversity. Iowa State University

Farming is tough and farmers want to make sure they make good decisions. Most farmers have a deep conservation ethic and commitment to their land. Now doing well by doing good may be just what the soil doctor ordered.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the results of a ten year study. The practice of prairie strips began as research plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa, and has expanded to 47 commercial farm sites in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and other states.

Iowa Public Radio interviewed Lisa Schulte Moore, the primary researcher and a professor at Iowa State University. She cited the following benefits:

  • reducing soil loss by 95 percent
  • reducing phosphorus runoff by 77 percent
  • reducing overall nitrogen loss by 70 percent
  • attracting pollinators
  • increasing the number and diversity of birds.

By swapping out deep rooted native plants for cool-season monoculture grasses currently in use on field edges and across gently sloping fields, many farmers can significantly improve soil retention while reducing runoff.

According to a study by Helmers and Zhou incorporating prairie strips at the footslope position of annual rowcrop systems provides an effective way to reduce sediment loss in agricultural runoff from under a no-till system.

While not specifically sited in the study, water that stays on the land also improves groundwater recharge at the same time it is capturing phosphorus and nitrogen.