These days, there is a lot of talk about soil health, cover crops, and regenerative ag. I was first introduced to cover crops my freshman year of college by a professor and have been intrigued with and passionate about it ever since. The more I have learned about it, the more I realize how much it just makes sense.
I started growing covers in 2019 and have been pleased with it ever since. A few of the results I have experienced already are lower inputs, increased yield, reduced soil and wind erosion, weed suppression, and high quality feed for cattle. I am amazed when I go out into a growing cash crop in the middle of the summer and everything is rock hard and dry in our conventional tilled field. I dig below the residue from the previous cover crop in the no-till/cover crop field, and it is instantly wet, black soil. In an area where we always want more rain, there has been a noticeable difference, and I have been able to make the best use of the rainfall we do get. No, it is not perfect and not everything you try will succeed, but overall, I have found cover crops to be extremely beneficial. If I can get the cash crop a few more days or weeks down the road and closer to the next rain, the better. I thoroughly enjoy checking on the covers, crops, and soil to learn what I can each time.
I recently attended Soil Health U in Salina. This event has provided continuing education and growth learning from other producers. I attended a session titled "Water Use and Aquifer Recharge." This session stuck out to me due to the many conversations about water we have had locally within our county and also with the state legislators about water rights and the diminishing levels of the aquifer. This session featured a producer, Chris Grotegut, from the panhandle of Texas where irrigation is their lifeline. He talked about how they have monitored and witnessed their aquifer levels continually decreasing since the 1950s. In 2010, they started utilizing cover crops on their 10,000-11,000 acre row crop and ranch operation to manage their water. The last several years, they have seen rising levels of water in the water table where they monitor, which is unheard of in their area.
Growing covers and increasing our soil health to be more efficient with irrigation water may have a role to play in the future. Learning more about farming and the Ag industry is something I love and will constantly be pursuing!
Joseph Neville, "SOIL HEALTH & WATER", SCFB news, Sedgwick County Farm Bureau Agricultural Association, March 2023, https://www.scfbaa.org/news