Cover crop plantings continue to increaseby Troy Bishopp

HAMILTON, NY – “A farmer’s productive capacity is directly related to the health of his or her soil,” said Howard Buffet. Farmers across the Empire State are planting this healthy sentiment with acres of cover crops and nutrient management strategies. Folks aren’t treating their soil like “dirt” anymore.

Cover crops are used after row crops are harvested or in between harvest and re-planting to promote general soil health in agricultural lands. Soil health is important as it means less erosion, less compaction, greater nutrient cycling, increased microbial activity and improved water infiltration into the soil, improving overall water quality. Cover crops can also contribute to weed suppression and interruption of pest cycles while attracting beneficial insects. Another added benefit is that cover crops can reduce the use and cost of fertilizer by supplying sufficient nutrients to the soil. When the cover crop “season” is over, crops can be harvested and used as additional forage.

Paul Brockett from Growmark FS Inc. in Sangerfield, NY, said, “The trend of planting cover crops is going up and is moving from annual and cereal ryes to more mixtures including oats and barley, clover and radishes and peas and triticale.”

Harold Schrock, sales and support manager at Cayuga Ag, commented, “2020 saw a modest growth in cover crop seed sales but overall the last five years have seen a sharp increase.”

Because of the TMDL pollution diet regulations, a significant amount of education, support and resources are being directed in the Upper Susquehanna River Watershed as a cover cropping model area. Addressing these issues with the aim of stimulating more cover crop implementation on corn silage acres in NY, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) of Conservation Districts continues its Cover Crop Initiative with funding from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to reach their environmental goals.

In 2020, the USC has planted over 7,900 acres of “covers” to stem soil erosion, increase soil organic matter and improve the biological, chemical and physical soil properties that will create a more resilient 2021 cropping season. “The need still far outweighs the funding capacity as more farmers are adopting this water quality practice,” said USC Ag Coordinator Emily Dekar.

One of the districts in this effort is the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District. Now in its eighth season of planting cover crops for improving soil health, the local organization has eclipsed the 1,200-acre threshold with funding help from farmers, NYS Ag & Markets, the Finger Lakes-Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance and the USC.

“The success is in the logistics and getting seed in the ground as soon as the corn choppers harvest the first plants,” said District Manager Steve Lorraine. “2020’s drier weather pattern led to another successful cover crop season. The plants have reacted positively to the unseasonable warmth and timely rains. To make this work cohesively, we work closely with Clinton Tractor Company for equipment rentals and Growmark-FS in Sangerfield to purchase certified rye seed. We employ seasonal staff to plant nonstop with a 15-foot John Deere 750 no-till drill and it also helps that we perform most of our own maintenance.”

To learn more about the USC Conservation Tillage Initiative and the NYS Agronomic Cover Cropping Workgroup, visit or contact Emily Dekar, USC ag coordinator, at 607.972.2346 for more details.