Last week, I attended the Southern Cover Crops Conference in Alabama. Besides being my first trip to the Heart of Dixie, it was a truly enjoyable opportunity to learn about growing cotton and peanuts, how Southern farmers utilize cover crops to protect their soil and retain moisture, and the challenges that the agriculture industry faces in the region.
One of the conference speakers, Myron Johnson, a grower from Headland, Ala., shared the top 5 decisions that a producer should make when planning to plant covers:
- What (if any) tillage practice to utilize
- What weed control method will be used
- Quantity, type and timing of fertilizer applications
- Seeding rate
- What varieties of covers to plant
An interesting comment I heard mentioned multiple times at the conference was that there is considerable social pressure not to plant cover crops, which many growers agreed is a very real barrier to getting more farmers to use cover crops. Although many of us associate peer pressure with high school, it can still linger and be very strong, particularly in small, rural communities where you see neighboring farmers at church, your child’s baseball game, and at the local school board meeting. Dealing with the constant onslaught of second-guessing, ribbing and outright criticism from other growers in the area can become wearisome, further discouraging growers from planting covers.
There may very well be pressure to not try something new, even from well-meaning landlords, neighboring farmers or friends. But in the end, who is responsible for the success of your farm and your profitability? Nobody else but you.
To combat social pressure, it may help to remember the many benefits you can realize with the underutilized conservation practice of planting covers. Besides cutting fertilizer costs, preventing soil erosion, reducing the need for herbicides and boosting your own yields, you’re also doing the right thing for the soil.
Why do we let ourselves be swayed by others’ opinions, especially when it comes to cover crops? Let’s start a conversation. Add your thoughts in the comments section or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.