If your operation’s goals are to reduce phosphorus (P) runoff and soil erosion while increasing yields, cover crops can certainly help — as nearly 30 Wisconsin farmers have discovered.
The Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance, a farmer-led, non-profit organization based in South Wayne, Wis., analyzed data from their 29 members representing 47,660 acres and 78,626 head of livestock. The analysis estimated the environmental impact of regenerative farming methods, including cover crops, no-till, and strip-till, compared to conventional farming practices. The data showed that growers who utilized no-till and strip-till may reduce P runoff by 53% and soil erosion by 59%.
One dairy planted 312 acres of cover crops, resulting in reducing P runoff by 752 pounds and soil erosion by 577 tons. A beef operation used strip-till on 704 acres and saw a reduction in P runoff of 1,570 pounds and 891 tons less soil erosion. A grain grower reduced his P runoff by 3,727 pounds and soil erosion by 4,827 tons by switching to no-till.
Growers have also reported increases in yields as soil quality has improved, up to 10-20%.
Collectively, alliance members have changed the way they farm, planting 5,305 acres of cover crops; transitioning 23,500 acres to either no-till or strip-till; managing 22,300 acres with nutrient management plans; and using low-disturbance manure injections on 4,000 acres.
These numbers are quite impressive, and just go to show what can be accomplished with a multi-faceted no-till system, including reduced or no tillage and living roots. And it also shows what the combined efforts of dozens of growers can accomplish to raise profitability and protect the environment as well.