Talk Your Farmer Into Planting Cover Crops
As a hunter and lessee, you’d think it would be tricky talking a farmer/landowner into planting cover crops. After all, it’s their land and they’ve presumably been farming long enough to know a thing or two. You don’t want to come across as pushy or act like you know more than they do – that’s a quick recipe to cause tension in the lease relationship, which you obviously don’t want. Instead, here are a few benefits of planting hunting cover crops – for the farmer, you, and the environment/animals – and how you can talk them into it.
Benefits of Cover Crops for Farmers
Fortunately, for the sake of this argument, there are a ton of benefits to discuss when it comes to why you should plant cover crops if they don’t already do it. Here are just a few of the major ones that should get your farmer’s attention.
- Soil Erosion – cover crops protect slopes from soil erosion by holding soil in place and absorbing some of the precipitation. Farmers don’t want to lose all their valuable topsoil in a rain storm.
- Weed Suppression – they could potentially save on herbicide costs by using cover crops at the right time of the year. These plants generally grow fast and suppress the growth of many annual and even perennial weed species.
- Nutrient Capture and Recycling – cover crops are known for recycling nutrients in several ways, which is why they are sometimes called green manure cover crops. Some crops are very good at salvaging excess nutrients, particularly grains crops with nitrogen, from simply washing away or leaching out of the soil. Others are good at mining nutrients (especially radishes with phosphorous) from deeper in the soil back up to the surface again by trapping it in their aboveground growth. Legume species produce their own nitrogen, and release it back to the soil when they are tilled under to decompose.
- Organic Matter/Soil Structure – to get that loose loamy soil that grows crops so well, you need organic matter. When you till cover crops into the soil, it breaks down over time and contributes organic matter and nutrients to improve the health and structure of the soil. Some crops (e.g., tillage radishes) will even help break through hard pans that develop over time with lots of compaction from driving tractors over fields.
- Moisture Retention – bare soil dries out fairly fast in the heat of summer, but growing plants help retain the moisture in the soil. The vegetation traps water in its growing tissue and shades the soil from heating up and drying too fast.
As you can see, there’s no shortage to the potential cover crop benefits for a farmer. All of the items listed above help improve the health of the soil, which should directly translate into healthier cash crops and saving money.
Benefits of Cover Crops for Hunters
As a lessee, you want to be respectful of the landowner’s wishes. They want to earn a nice income on a property too. But as a hunter, you also want to attract the most deer you can, which can be accomplished with hunting cover crops. Deer love nutritious young plant growth, and most of the examples of cover crops discussed in this article are very palatable to deer at young stages or at maturity, and may even rival some food plot seed varieties. In fact, the best food plot for turkey and deer in your area may just be composed of cover crop seeds.
Good Hunting Cover Crops
Here are some of the best cover crops for both farming and hunting purposes.
- Legume cover crops (e.g., peas, beans, clover, etc.) include plant species that produce their own nitrogen to contribute to the soil when they are plowed under, and so they are the best cover crop for nitrogen credit. Because of this trait, they are also typically very high in protein and very palatable to deer, turkeys, and almost any other wild animal. To get the most benefit out of them, they may be better for fallow fields or late summer plantings, which would benefit both the farmer and hunter.
- Tillage radishes help improve soil structure and aeration. How? Their deep tap roots break through hard pans in the soil and leave a hole when they decompose, allowing more water, oxygen, and nutrients into the soil profile. In addition, deer love the green tops during the summer and happily munch the taproots in the early winter.
- Grains (e.g., wheat, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat) are good hunting cover crops because they help scavenge leftover nutrients that might erode otherwise, and still provide a lot of nutrition for wildlife. Most of these species are more palatable and nutritious when they are younger. When tilled under, particularly a buckwheat cover crop, the plants decompose and add organic matter back into the soil to build the soil profile and improve its fertility.
Hopefully the benefits of hunting cover crops above will be enough to convince your farmer/landowner that they should try it out if they own a chunk of farmland.
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