Our 2015 Maryland Pride Corn Maze and Apple Kiddie Corn Maze were harvested in November 2015 and we planted winter rye within days. The photo below was taken in April 2016 of the rye cover crop. Can you see the apple maze paths in the rye? The maze’s paths are a darker color green than the rest of the field because more nutrients are available to the rye since no corn crop grew on the paths to utilize the nutrients in 2015. The rye where the corn grew is light green because the corn used those nutrients. Our goal as farmers is to only apply the amount of nutrients that the growing crop will need. This is a perfect example of the value of cover crops.
Cover crops are hard-working plants that build productive soil and help control weeds, pests and diseases. Cover crops can be any type of plants, but are generally grasses (including cereal grains which may be harvested) or legumes. They may be tilled into the soil as a green fertilizer or used as mulch on the surface. In 2015 we planted rye cover crops on all acreage we use to grow corn, soybeans and pumpkins.
Cover crops stabilize nutrients by covering the soil to prevent excess nitrogen from leaching into water sources. Their roots and top growth build soil quality by providing organic matter to enhance soil structure. The roots stabilize soil movement for erosion control. Legume cover crops thrive on nitrogen; convert nitrogen and store it in the roots so that it is released and available for the next season’s plants. The cover crops have good timing because they grow during the winter when the ground would normally be bare.
Farmers plant cover crops for the winter to protect the soil and recycle nutrients for next season’s crop naturally. They are recognized as one of the most cost-effective and environmentally- promising ways to reduce runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. As local farmers who have produced and harvested agricultural products for many generations, we take great pride in being good stewards of the land. Sustainable farming practices like planting cover crops are a best management practice and our top priority.