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Dave Moose can already see the benefits of no-till and cover crops on his Illinois farm—more worms, more organic matter and better soil retention. But he wants to see quantifiable research that will clearly spell out the pros and cons for every farmer interested in pursuing these practices. That’s where the Soil Health Partnership comes in.
Dave Moose kneeled down in the black Illinois dirt and gently pulled up a tiny green plant. The plant’s thin tap root extended deep into the soil, making Dave smile in satisfaction.
“See that? The tap root is already nearly 12 inches long. It will grow to be another one or two feet down in the soil,” he said. “It provides a nice environment for worms, and creates channels for water to go down deep in the soil. I don’t have to rip up the soil for this to happen. Plus, these plants hold nutrients and transfer them into the soil later on.”
The Moose farm is a 1400 acre row crop operation with soybeans and corn. Dave started farming with his father in 1976. He first got into cover crops in 2011. Dave has been no-till on his farm since 1985 but added cover crops as a way to provide additional organic matter into the soil that he wasn’t seeing from no-till alone. His cover crops include cereal rye and crimson clover, with occasion rapeseed and tillage radishes if the season allows.
“Just as with no-till, we had some bumps with cover crops early on,” he said. “But I am committed to cover crops. I want to see how this is going to work long term.”
Digging further into the dirt, Dave pointed out earthworms “the real work-horses out here.”
“With cover crops, we’ve seen an explosion of earthworms. They take the residue and help decompose it. Plus, they create more channels for water and nutrients to move in the soil,” he added.
Even with these early positive effects of cover crops, Dave knows that it will take more substantive proof to get others on board. He joined the Soil Health Partnership in 2014 because he wanted definitive research to lay out the benefits of cover crops. And he wants to fully understand the downsides as well so everyone knows the reality.
“It’s very important what we do with our land,“ Dave said. “I think there’s going to be more rules and regulations headed our way, and they will target how our practices impact the watershed. We need to get ahead of these regulations and show what we can do.”
Dave said people ask him all the time if the no-till and cover crop practices he has initiated are making him any money.
“They certainly do. I am not losing soil. I’m building soil. I’m getting by with less labor, less equipment. And with the research of the Soil Health Partnership, I expect we’ll see more proof of the benefits of cover crops.”