Cover crops might seem like a new topic in agriculture, but they have been around for decades — well, actually for centuries, as I learned in research for this article. Maryland has a long history of researching and utilizing cover crops. Primarily because soils there already were depleted by the time of the American Revolution. Tobacco was a monoculture crop grown there, with clean tillage that resulted over time to severe soil erosion. Some farmers switched to wheat and corn as a result.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the late 1790s incorporated grasses and legumes in rotation with tobacco, wheat and corn. The addition of the new crops were also an adequate feed source for cattle, and the cattle provided manure, hence nutrients to the soil. The crop rotation helped to restore depleted land to reduce emigration and starvation. However, change is usually a gradual process, and it was not until the 1860s before these practices were more widely adopted.

So what might be the benefits of cover crops? According to the book “Managing Cover Crops Profitably, third edition,” they cut fertilizer costs, reduce the need for herbicides and other pesticides, improve yields by enhancing soil health, prevent soil erosion, conserve soil moisture, protect water quality and help safeguard personal health. According to the authors, “these benefits will vary by location and season, but at least two or three usually occur with any cover crop.” Another benefit not mentioned in that particular section but that comes to mind is additional grazing or haying for livestock production.

“Cover crops provide many benefits, but they’re not do-it-all wonder crops. To find a suitable cover crop or mix of covers: Clarify your primary needs or goals, identify the best time and place for a cover crop in your system, and test a few options.”

Therefore, if you are curious or just think we are flat-out crazy, or better yet want to explore potential options for utilizing cover crops, come join us. The Cottonwood Extension District will offer a Cover Crop School on Wednesday in Great Bend and Hays. The Great Bend school will be at the American Ag Credit Building, 5634 10th St. in Great Bend, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with a light meal served. The Hays school will be from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Cottonwood Extension Office meeting room, 601 Main in Hays, with a meal following.

Anita Dille, professor of weed ecology at Kansas State University, will discuss her applied research on weed suppression using cover crops. She will discuss how different mixes of cover crops suppressed weeds and what covers might work best depending on your cropping system.

Jaymelynn Farney, southeast area beef systems specialist for K-State Research and Extension, will discuss her applied research pertaining to using cover crops in a livestock production system. She will discuss grazing covers as well as baling for future use. She also will talk about recommended cover crops to maximize forage for livestock and future applied research projects.

To learn more about cover crops, join us Wednesday in either Great Bend or Hays. The programs are free to attend, but RSVP is requested by Monday for meal counts. RSVP for either program at (620) 793-1910 or (785) 628-9430, or email Theresa at tam3@ksu.edu.

Stacy Campbell is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent in Hays for the Cottonwood Extension District Office.