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Conservation authorities make push for farmers to plant cover crops

As farmers get their crops out of the ground before winter, conservation authorities are hoping for a bigger uptake on conservation farming practices such as planting top cover.

One farmer already doing this is Henry Denotter, a grain and oilseed growers and the operator of Denotter Farms Kingsville, Ont.

Every fall, Denotter rotates his crops from corn to soybean and then to buckwheat.

This year, he has corn in the ground and the harvest will begin any day. But after the seed corn is pulled, Denotter e leaves behind the stumps of the stalks in rows separated by 20 inches.

“It isn't pretty. It's not,” says Denotter, recognizing the fields can look a little messy and unkempt, but it’s for good reason.

Next spring, Denotter won’t pull up the mostly dead top cover and he won’t till the earth.

“In our case, most time we just plant right through all that. The planter is set up to accommodate that and push stuff out of the way of the plant in-between.”

The cornstalk leftovers and residue perform a number of functions, says Denotter, which are beneficial for both future crops and the environment.

Other popular cover crops include alfalfa, rye, clovers, buckwheat and winter wheat.

“The traditional cover crop is not something that you actually harvest it's a placeholder,” says Kevin Money, director of conservation services at the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA).

That means the winter crops are not typically food for consumption, it’s more so food for the soil.

When these items are planted after the fall harvest, they effectively help hold soil in place, strengthen root structures and reduce sheet erosion.

According to Money, cover crops also help lock nutrients like nitrogen and carbon in the soil and keep it from running off into local creeks and rivers.

“Ultimately all that water and all those nutrients make their way into Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair in our region,” he says. “And every year, unfortunately, we have what's called algae blooms in our lakes.”

Like any investment, planting cover crops comes with a level of financial risk for farmers. But some conservation authorities, such as ERCA, offer incentives like cost-sharing programs to purchase seeds so farmers can try out the technique.

“Let's even just talk to people and say look, just try it. Run a test run a field to compare it to see what's going on,” says Denotter, who has been practicing conservation techniques for two decades.

“Long term, we believe that there's absolutely a benefit to improve soil structure and improve soil organics if you put in cover crops and manage your farm field appropriately,” says Money. Top Stories

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