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The Coming Revolution

By   /  November 17, 2014  /  5 Comments

What will cover crops do for us? Here are some thoughts from Chip Hines

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Grazing cover crops. Photo courtesy of the NRCS.

Grazing cover crops. Photo courtesy of the NRCS.

Crop farming has gone through several stages of evolution during past centuries and we are now in the beginning stages of another, the cover cropping revolution. Cover crops will bring farmers into the reality of teaming with the environment instead of brushing it aside to follow an incomplete comprehension of the natural world.  Progress can only come with a deep awareness of the complexity and interrelationships that direct all organisms in the natural world.

Cover cropping is the connection between farming and the environment that has been lacking through the centuries and only now is obtaining a significant following and verifiable success. Cover cropping will also plug a hole in the declining diversity of crops and profit enterprises on our farms. By grazing cover crops with livestock, farmers and ranchers can add an additional income stream.

Millions of acres of farm ground are left bare and unproductive for half of each year. Think about the opportunities being missed! One half the year’s free solar energy is going to waste. Additional enterprises on a farm utilizing cover crops can alleviate the pressure off depending on only one or two commodity crops.

In this country, diversified farms with a combination of animals and crops were the norm in days gone by. Rotating crops, planting legumes and applying animal manure were common practices to build or retain fertility. This held on until the government began to subsidize grain crops, encouraging monoculture cropping. As farms sold off the animals and ceased crop rotations, fertility came from application of fertilizers. These modern techniques were lauded as the latest and most modern methods to improve farming and were necessary for efficient production.

What this “new” cropping system meant though, was that when the harvest was over, the ground is left bare. Bare ground means there are no live roots in the soil and no cover to protect the soil from evaporation, wind erosion, and water erosion.

Leaving crop land bare half the year can be equated to an engine without fuel half the year. It cannot furnish valuable work without fuel. So why leave the land bare half the year and lose the efficiency that could be gained by harvesting the sun’s free energy?.

Soil Health Front PageImproving soil health is a continuing process that builds upon itself from management of available resources with very few added outside expenses. With every new level of soil health, another level of wealth is attained. This is as close as humans may get to perpetual motion

Management will define the level of success. Management is a thought process, combining knowledge, research, logic, intuition, and experience into a workable method. It often will mean getting rid of old assumptions, and traditions; allowing yourself to realize that what you thought you knew, you don’t. Clearing the mind will be daunting for some, exhilarating for others. Replacing old thinking with new will be the catalyst to invigorate reasoning, which will open up further possibilities. I hope one of them is a successful cover crop revolution.

This link is to one of the best explanations I have seen on the basics and benefits of soil health:  21st Century Soil Health. What it does not do is tell the whole story, which as I have explained above, is adding foraging animals as an added enterprise.

 

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About the author

Chip Hines was born and raised on a farm and ranch southwest of Burlington, Colorado. After moving to the Kit Carson, Colorado area and working on several large ranches Chip and his wife Judy began leasing land and buying cows in 1968. Unbeknownst to them this was the run-up to the big cattle break in 1974. Their first cattle cycle lesson. Chip has not forgotten! In 1989 he began planned grazing and concentrated even more on his low input philosophy. The years of learning have been published in three books on ranch management, available on his website, http://chiphines.com. Chip now lives in Yuma, Colorado and is still involved in supporting the cattle industry.

5 Comments

  1. Robert Friel says:

    I planted Jerry oats, turnips, annual rye, orchard grass and red clover in over grazed, on purpose, tall fescue pasture. I got some fall growth but my goal is early spring grazing with the clover and orchard grass for mid summer. I farm in western Ky and this is my first attempt.

    Bob

  2. bill elkins says:

    I’ve been grazing cattle on long established Tall Fescue pasture following the Greg Judy strategy to diversify with some partial success, which varies year to year. After my stockpile forage is used up in early spring, we could use a “cover crop” that was seeded in fall into recently grazed permanent pasture. I’m dubious about drilling Brassica, rye grass and the like into my sward in late summer without using herbicide, afraid the seed would not take in face of competition. This would be putting a “cover crop” into pre-existing cover. Any advice anyone?

    • Edmund Brown says:

      I haven’t tried it, but I’ve thought of intentionally over-grazing a section of pasture and then drilling into the weakened sward. I have no clue how well the seeding of (enter your crop here) would do…

      • Kathy Voth says:

        As I’m doing research for articles for On Pasture, I’ve actually found some information on this. I’ll dig it back out and write it up since it seems to be of interest here.

    • Chip Hines says:

      Jaime Elozonda of Florida routinely grazes a cover crop very short, then plants. I’m not sure of the plants grazed down or what goes in next. He is successful doing this in his environment.

      Chip

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