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Cover Crops in Specialty Crop Production

Row crop farmers are not the only group who can benefit from the use of cover crops. Vegetable growers also see a host of benefits by adding cover crops to their farm management system. If you are a specialty crop grower, whether solely or in addition to row crops, I encourage you to listen to the CCSI-HAT Soil Health Podcast "Fall-seeded Cover Crops in Specialty Crop Production" by following this link.

The podcast features Chuck Mohler, AKA “Sweet Corn Charlie” and Joe Rorick, CCSI Agronomist, discussing the many benefits achieved by using a wide mix of cover crops in specialty crop production. Chuck is a specialty crop producer in Elkhart County. Utilizing cover crops in his system is nothing new to Chuck. His father began using them in the 1960s. Chuck points out that there was a lot more diversity in general when it came to farming in the 1950s and 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the corn/soybean row crop rotation really exploded in popularity as a way to cover huge amounts of acres.

Lack of diversity in a farming system is like a person being fed just one diet, Chuck explains. If humans ate the same thing every single day, the body would be out of balance and not very healthy. The same is true for soil. Diversity is key to health! In fact, Chuck proudly reports yields up to 20% higher than other producers around him due to the benefits brought about by his commitment to diversity. When it comes to the bottom line, Chuck states that he makes more money per acre because of cover crops.

Chuck’s major crops include sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. He farms mainly sandy loam soils, but he does have some heavy clay soils. In addition to a wide array of cash crops, Chuck implements diverse cover crops on his farm. One thing you won’t see on Chuck’s farm is brown soil because, “If something isn’t growing, I’m wasting sunlight!”

Joe and Chuck discuss the key points to consider when choosing which cover crops to plant in the fall. A producer should look at climate, soil type and soil preparation, seeding methods, termination methods, the goals for the farming operation and so much more. Chuck says this about cover crops, “It’s not a one time dance. I don’t see cover crops as a Saturday night girl. We’re married, and I live with ‘em.” Adding cover crops to your farm management system, requires a commitment.

The podcast includes a helpful discussion about winter rye and why it is so popular in Elkhart County and the surrounding region. According to Joe and Chuck, the reasons for this are many:

· We know a lot about it

· Behaves consistently

· Provides a lot of above ground biomass to cover the soil and help with weed control

· Pretty easy to work with

· Has a long planting window

· Minimal soil prep required

· Grows until the ground freezes making it great for a colder climate

· Rolls down easily, making for fairly easy termination

I don’t want to give any more away, because you really need to listen to this podcast. Besides being informative, it’s just FUN! Chuck offers both wisdom and humor and who doesn’t need a little fun in their life these days?

Sheila Schroeder

CCSI Northern Program Manager


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