Manage cover crops to stop the wind this spring

Anne Verhallen, Soil Management Specialist – Horticulture, OMAFRA – Ridgetown

From ONvegetables in The Grower, April 2013

If it is April – it is going to be windy in Ontario. Last spring we saw a lot of soil changing fields. Cover crops can help to stop that. The key is to keep the soil covered as long as possible and to break up the sweep of the wind across a field.

Leave cover crops intact – that is undisturbed by tillage as long as possible, particularly if the cover crop winter killed. That residue is quite fragile and easily destroyed. If the cover crop is still living, certainly use a burnoff herbicide to kill or start a slow kill of a cover crop but leave the soil undisturbed as long as you can to prevent soil from moving.

Consider strip tillage – strip tillage creates tillage zones for the emerging seeds or young transplants while leaving the rest of the inter-row area undisturbed. This can be the best of both worlds – great ground cover for wind protection and the benefits of tillage in the early crop root zone. As an added bonus, the residue in the inter row can help to retard weed growth and preserve soil moisture. Michigan research has shown that this practice can help to preserve moisture and moderate soil temperatures mid summer by 2 to 5 degrees or more.

Create wind strips – selectively till or burn off existing cover crop to create wind strips in field. They will reduce the sweep of wind across the field while allowing normal tillage and planting in between. Research in Ontario has shown a 1 to 2 degree soil and air temperature advantage in these areas in early spring.

Get planting – if you have some time i.e. 6 weeks before planting your main crop, you do have time to fit in a short season cover crop like oats, barley, oilseed radish, mustard or other fast growing cover crops. They can be no-till seeded to avoid disturbing the soil anymore than necessary. Caution: consider how and when to terminate the cover crop and any pest implications.

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