Many fields have been ravaged by adverse weather this year in Iowa. On top of drought and hail, a devastating derecho windstorm steam-rolled a wide swath of Iowa starting in Sac County and progressing eastward along Highway 30. Along with the decision of how to handle this year’s damaged crop, farmers need to consider how to protect the soil in preparation for next year’s crop.
“Your plan should include cover crops,” advises Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension cropping systems agronomist.
Use of cover crops after a crop is damaged by adverse weather can provide short-term protection of the soil while enhancing the long-term benefits of increased water infiltration, improved nutrient cycling and soil organism diversity. Using a cover crop to scavenge nitrogen will be especially important in areas of Iowa that experienced reduced yields due to drought conditions. Cover crops have shown a significant reduction in nitrogen loss from fields the year following a drought.
“Successful cover crop establishment will require managing the residue of the damaged corn crop to allow seed-to-soil contact when seeding the cover crop,” Licht says. “You also need to consider the likelihood of having sufficient soil moisture for cover crop establishment. The timing of when you seed the cover crop and getting a nice rain afterward is a key to getting a good cover crop stand.”
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