Illinois News

Field day takeaway: 'Cover crops really aren't all that hard'

Golden, Ill., farmer Andrew Reuschel explains cover crops during a walking tour as part of a field day Thursday outside of Golden. The tour was sponsored in cooperation with the Soil Health Partnership and Adams County Soil and Water Conservation District. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 9, 2018 9:05 pm Updated: Aug. 9, 2018 9:16 pm

GOLDEN, Ill. -- Andrew Reuschel wants his fellow farmers to know one thing about cover crops.

"Cover crops really aren't that hard," the Golden farmer said. "They can be fairly easy to manage. They can do wonders for your soils in terms of not only just erosion but nutrient cycling."

Reuschel proved his point with a Thursday morning walking tour highlighting soybeans planted into green cereal rye, corn no-tilled into a cover crop and corn interseeded with cover crops when it was knee-high.

"Technically what we did is considered companion cropping. We pick the species of plant that would grow well with corn to add benefit to the corn during its growing season," Reuschel said. "We have definitely seen some pretty good benefits. We are holding a lot more moisture during this drought year with these cover crops, and our soil temperature hasn't gone over 80 degrees all year long."

The tour, part of a field day sponsored in cooperation with the Soil Health Partnership and Adams County Soil and Water Conservation District, focused on increasing farm returns through soil health.

Soil Health Partnership Southern Illinois Field Manager Abigail Peterson said fields days held across the state help farmers see what is going on in area fields.

"They can get some ideas to help start them on what they want to adapt on their farm whether it be no till, cover crops or interseeding," Peterson said.

Greg Mathews of Liberty listened carefully and took notes to share with his son, Brett, who's interested in cover crops.

"He's done a lot of research. I don't know as much about it, but we'll probably go that direction more and more. We planted some cereal rye, just in a small seven-acre field," Mathews said. "Our soil is highly erodible. We just know that if we don't do something different, it's just going to get worse and worse."

Payson farmer Paul Smith has planted cover crops for at least 10 years, no tilled for about five years and two years ago started planting green -- or planting into a cover crop without killing it first as a way to hold in soil moisture and smother weeds.

"I came to see what I could learn beyond what I already do now," said Smith, who brought along his 13-year-old son Kyler. "I try to teach him as I go. He might as well learn."

More than soil can benefit from cover crops.

University of Illinois entomologist Nick Seiter said cover crops, particularly flowering ones, provide a resource for pollinators along with predatory and parasitic insects.

Farmers can experience increased pressure from black cutworms and true armyworms when following a grass cover crop with a grass cash crop, or a legume with a legume, but "the issues can be managed very easily. Growers need to be aware and scout their fields," Seiter said. "Not all insects they find out in the field are going to be pests. There's a wide variety of beneficial insects, a wide variety that don't necessarily do a lot of good but don't do a lot of harm."

Likewise, there's a wide variety of cover crops and combinations to try -- sometimes with varying success based on the farmer's level of experience. "Cereal rye ahead of corn is definitely not step one. It is step one ahead of soybeans, not ahead of corn," said Jim Isermann, Northern Illinois field manager for the partnership, a farmer-led initiative of the National Corn Growers Association to measure the economic and environmental benefit of best management practices.

Reuschel hopes to see more farmers try adapting cover crops to their fields.

"The rates will change. Some of the actual species of cover crops might change. It's all about going out and actually looking at the soil and figuring things out, getting an understanding of the system to make everything work," he said.

Taking positive steps now is vital for the future.

"The bottom line is we need to take care of the soil the good Lord created for us," said Louis Reuschel, Andrew's grandfather, who has promoted soil health and cover crops for decades. "Too many don't think about making it better for the next generation."


Things to Do