The cover crop triangle simplifies finding the right fit

More than success, failure is a great teacher. Still, most people don’t want to openly talk about their mistakes and instead focus on what worked well.

When it comes to cover crop use in Western Canada, only talking about what worked well won’t get us to wide-spread adoption. At the same time, a “that will never work here!” mentality is holding back adoption of the practice, too.

Kevin Elmy, who farms near Saltcoats, Sask., and works for Cover Crops Canada, says the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) principle is hard at work from way down south in the U.S., through Ontario, and in to western Canada. Instead of saying it won’t work, farmers should be asking,”How can this work?” he says.

As an example, Prairie farmers are facing a late harvest and challenging weather — does that mean cover crops are out? Elmy says there are so many species to choose from plus so many ways to seed cover crops, that even a compressed fall season there are options for keeping soil covered.

Yes, choosing a cover crop can be intimidating, as there are at least 60 different species to start with. Elmy points out, to simplify things, think about good crop rotation: you don’t want the same types of crops following each other. So, if you’re coming out of a cereal and going in to an oilseed next year, a legume cover in between is what’s needed. Or, if you’re going from a pulse/legume, to a cereal, a brassica or oilseed will fit nicely. By thinking in this species selection “triangle” farmers can quickly narrow down the species options.

He adds the more research farmers do in to cover cropping, intercropping, and soil health building, the more they’ll learn about how existing weed species populations can indicate different issues with non-productive areas of a field (i.e. salinity, poor drainage) or excess nitrates, and that can serve as guidance on which type of cover crop to choose.

Listen below to hear Kevin Elmy and Shaun Haney talk about cover crop solutions: 

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