We are coming up on the end of our first year of systematic cover-cropping at the home ranch. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the results and expect to expand the acreage cover-cropped for the coming rainy season. What did we find?
Water-retention and infiltration: Despite fairly healthy rainfall this past winter, we had much less standing water and runoff than has been typical. Some of this result may be from the light disking that we did to incorporate a top dressing of manure and prep the ground for seeding. Still, we are happy with the result. Grade: A.
Erosion control: This typically isn’t much of an issue at the home ranch, since it is pretty flat. But a ditch that runs from our wellsite to the main drainage had suffered erosion in the past, so we covercropped it, paying particular attention to the area around the well’s discharge pipe. Results were fantastic. Not only was there no erosion, but all discharge water was captured with a 100 feet or so of the outlet. No well discharge water leaves the property anymore. Grade: A+
Soil Improvement: Too early to tell. The crimson clover that was part of the mix failed to take off, so we lost the benefit of nitrogen fixing and clover’s deep taproot. Possibly it just lost out to the very vigorous barley. We’ll try clover alone in these areas next year. Grade: Incomplete (But looking like a C)
Weed Suppression: We didn’t expect much benefit here, but were pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Mowing the covercrop has pretty much taken care of the weeds. No empirical data, but it seems that the amount of manhours and herbicide used in the covercropped area is down. Grade: A
Pest Control: While we hope that the covercrop is providing some beneficial insect habitat, we can’t say with any certainty that this is the case. But gophers and snails are abundant. Control of these two pests has been an issue. Grade: D