Start simple, shoot for diversity in cover crops

A northwestern Wisconsin farmer has had success with cover crops for more than a decade, and he keeps fine-tuning his plan. 

Andy Bensend farms west of Dallas, Wisconsin, and tells Brownfield he started cover cropping more than a decade ago, and he’s fine-tuning his cover crop rotation to better assist his cash crops. “We saw right away that there were some opportunities to maybe make some nitrogen for our corn crop, so what we’re trying to do is find a rotation that allows us to plant some legumes in the normal progression of crop rotation that would let the legumes produce nitrogen.”

Bensend says adding wheat to the crop rotation allows earlier cover crop establishment, helping both his soil and the following year’s corn crop. “The beauty of that is you harvest wheat right around the first of August, and that leaves you the whole month of August and the whole month of September really in the growing season to grow these covers and get some really nice benefits out of that longer time.”

Bensend says in the northern climate zone where he is, it’s tough to get cover crops established in October after corn and soybeans.  Bensend says he strip tills for corn and has no-till soybeans, disturbing as little soil as possible.

Bensend spoke to Brownfield at the Wisconsin Water and Soil Health Conference in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

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