Cover crops are a conservation practice that reduce runoff by holding soil in place between the harvesting and planting of cash crops. They have been a popular practice in the Yahara WINS project, with several area farmers implementing cover crops. In 2020, Dane County Land and Water Resources Department and UW-Extension received a Yahara WINS grant to support testing of innovative approaches to cover cropping to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of implementing this practice.
The project involved the use of a farm implement called a roller crimper to streamline the transition between cash crops and cover crops. A front-mounted roller crimper flattens the cover crop in the spring while simultaneously planting, allowing the farmer to reduce passes over the field, which saves time while avoiding the use of herbicides to terminate the cover crop. Another configuration of the roller crimper allows for crimping in-row while planting.
The project resulted in a modeled phosphorus reduction of 895 pounds in 2020 at a cost of $28 per pound, making it a relatively low-cost phosphorus management technique. Dane County plans to continue assessing the return on investment of this practice and demonstrating it to local farmers to help increase its adoption.