Researchers putting prairie cover crops in context

Callum Morrison hammering a ring used for an infiltrometer to measure how water moves into the soil at our long-term cover cropping experiment in Carman, Man. which compares rotations using cover crops and those without cover crops. ECA Review/Submitted
Written by ECA Review

Callum Morrison hammering a ring used for an infiltrometer to measure how water moves into the soil at our long-term cover cropping experiment in Carman, Man. which compares rotations using cover crops and those without cover crops. ECA Review/Submitted

Cover crops seem to be a growing topic of discussion these days. Despite being a relatively niche endeavour in the Prairies, they are quickly gaining popularity. 

With growing interest, many people are eager to learn what cover crops are, how many farmers are growing them, and how farmers are fitting them into their rotations. 

A new project at the University of Manitoba is surveying farmers across the Prairies to answer these questions.

What is a Cover Crop?

Cover crops are grown when a cash crop is not growing, such as after harvest. The aim of cover crops is to benefit the soil, and improve subsequent crops. 

A common example would be planting a fall rye cover crop following harvest of a cereal cash crop. 

These fall or ‘shoulder season’ cover crops grow through fall until freeze up. If the cover crop can overwinter, they will also grow the following spring before being terminated by the farmer so the next cash crop can be planted. 

Full season cover crops have also being used to tackle problem soils. 

A full season cover crop may involve a farmer taking an entire field or targeted areas within a field out of annual cash crop production to improve the soil. 

Farmers with fields that were too wet for planting may plant a cover crop to dry out a field and improve the soil for planting the following year. 

Full season cover crops are popular with cattle farmers as they can be grazed at the end of the season. 

Why we need more research?

Cover crops are becoming more popular on the Prairies, but adoption remains low. 

There is an opportunity to expand our knowledge on how cover crops are being used on the Prairies so we can assist other farmers with their decision making process, and guide future research, extension and policy.

The Prairie Cover Crop Survey aims to determine the extent of cover cropping across the Prairies, how and why cover crops are being used, what benefits farmers have seen and the challenges they have faced. 

Crucially we also want to hear from farmers who have never grown a cover crop as well as farmers who have grown cover crops but have stopped growing. 

This will help us to identify what challenges remain surrounding cover crops and identify ways we can overcome these hurdles. 

Take Part!

Any farmer can add their voice by taking the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/prairiecovercrops2020 Any farmer can take part! 

It is just as important to hear from farmers who grew cover crops in 2020 as those who did not.

 

by Callum Morrison, Ph.D. student, Dept. of Plant Science,  University of Manitoba