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Terry Bachtold of Strawn, Illinois, has been farming his entire life. He grew up with cattle and hogs along with an annual rotation of oats, soybeans, corn and hay.
He sees cover crops as a return to the old ways through a shorter term, similar rotation system. Plus, they are a way to naturally increase organic matter.
“We have come a long way in technology as far as nutrient management, but I think the next leap forward is going to be improving soil through practices like cover crops and no-till,” said Terry. “Organic matter is basically what holds the soil together. If you don’t have organic matter, you’re not going to raise a crop.”
Terry is also interested in cover crops because of their ability to suppress weeds and hold nitrogen for use by growing plants in the next crop year.
He’s hopeful this means he can reduce commercial application of nitrogen, but only time—and research with the Soil Health Partnership—will tell.
“As you increase the organic matter, you also increase the amount of nitrogen as it decomposes from plants will release back naturally,” Terry explains. “Each one percent of organic matter is basically 20-30 pounds of nitrogen that’s available to the crop and gets released every year out of your soil.”