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Tilley column: Cover crops a boon to soil

Many North Carolina farmers, especially those in Rowan County, are leaders in soil conservation and land preservation.
Farmers work hard to conserve their land and make special efforts to seek out new farming practices in order to maintain quality soils.
Some farmers rely heavily on Cooperative Extension to make contacts with researchers at N.C. State University as well as N.C. A&T State University. Furthermore, extension reaches out to other farming organizations in other states in order to provide North Carolina farmers the best options and to help them make the best decisions in relation to crop management.
A farmer taking care of his soil is a farmer securing his way of life. It makes no since for a farmer to abuse the land he or she relies so heavily on to make a living. What steps or methods do farmers take to preserve their land?
There are many things throughout the year, but one method is the planting of a winter cover crop. Farmers in the region mostly focus on planting summer annuals such as corn and soybeans. They plant their crop in the early days of spring and hope to harvest come August.
Many will plant winter crops such as wheat or barley and look to harvest come May or June. Other farmers may allow the land to sit idle through winter. Nonetheless, being good stewards of land, many will plant a crop in the field with the main focus of building soil quality for next year.
In general, cover crops provide the farmer with a land cover to help prevent water and wind erosion. One strong storm with large amounts of heavy rain can wash away topsoil that took years to establish.
No matter if youíre a farmer, gardener or an ordinary citizen taking care of your yard, it is vital to cover bare earth with some type of vegetation or material. Furthermore, a winter cover crop helps with the suppression of weeds. Weeds bring more competition to the field, competing for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. Fewer weeds equal less competition for the crop youíre growing, which ultimately equals healthier plants.
One of the most important reasons for planting a cover crop is to build organic matter. As spring emerges, the winter crop will die, leaving behind decomposing dry matter. This decomposing material is an excellent source of nutrients for future crops and allows for vigorous microbial activity.
It is important to understand that farmers work hard to conserve the land they work on. Farmer or not, everyone should take steps to conserve the land we so readily trust to fulfill our needs. For tips or other recommendations, please call your county extension service.
Scott Tilley is the area agriculture agent responsible for field crops with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Davie and Rowan counties. Call 704-216-8970. To learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities on Facebook or website at www.rowanextension.com.

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