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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Conservation > Cover Crops Research > Cover Crop Research Photos

Cover Crop Research and Demonstration Photos

Cover crops, quick-growing crops, such as winter rye or clover, are planted between periods of regular crop production to prevent soil erosion and provide humus or nitrogen.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is working with creative farmers to find ways to fit cover crops into Minnesota farming systems and increase cover crop acres in Minnesota.

Check out these photos from Minnesota farmer Ray Rauenhorst on how he prevents water and wind erosion using cover crops:

Water spilling over into drainage ditch after a heavy/fast 3" rain. The topography is quite flat. The soil is heavy and black where farmers say, "My soil doesn't have an erosion problem."

Water spilling over drainage ditch.

A ditch bank about 8 miles from picture #1. The bank has caved in and is on its way to the Gulf of Mexico via the Maple, Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Minnesota, and Mississippi River system. These hills are conventionally tilled and have little residue to stop water erosion. This cave-in of sediment is also very costly for the county to remove as it now acts as a dam to restrict normal water flow.

Ditch bank caved in, hills conventionally tilled.

After heavy rains on lighter, sandy soil, what didn't wash away the previous day is now blowing away. This field is also conventionally tilled. That's a farm building site in the distance.

After heavy rains, water and wind erosion.

This is another picture of the same field.

After heavy rains, water and wind erosion, picture 2.

A graphic comparison of what can be done to prevent erosion. On the left is a strip-till field with rye cover that has been planted to soybeans. On the right is a field where conventional tillage is practiced. Note the line of demarcation - to the foot - literally!

Rye cover compared to conventional showing wind erosion.

The day after the wind went down. This wind erosion is from a high organic matter peat field. It also looked like the Sahara Desert the day before.

Erosion after wind on high organic matter peat field.

This is looking down from the combine while harvesting corn on October 30. The rye was aerially seeded about September 7.

Looking down from combine while harvesting corn, with aerially seeded rye.

Rye that was aerial seeded into standing corn - a very uniform stand.

Rye aerially seeded into standing corn.

Rye that was fall seeded into standing corn during the first week of September. The rye greens up very early in the spring. It also needs very few heat units to germinate and grow in the fall. About 34 degrees will get it going.

Rye fall seeded into corn greens up in the spring.

A very dense stand of rye on April 23. It should be burned down with Roundup® at this stage.

Very dense stand of rye with Ray Rauenhorst.

A close-up of the picture above.

Dense stand of rye in April close-up.

This is a picture of a rye check strip with a waterway in the strip. The rye has been burned down and the field has been no-tilled into soybeans. With all the rye biomass along with the no-till, this field is no longer vulnerable to water or wind erosion. By the time the rye residue has decomposed on the surface, the soybean crop has already produced a canopy to further protect the soil - plus the dense root structure of the rye crop remains in the soil. Contrast this with the clean tilled field in the foreground.

Rye strip in waterway next to rye burned down in no-tilled soybeans.

The tenacity of rye. This rye has been aerially seeded into this drilled soybean field only 5-6 weeks earlier. With all the foliage on the soybeans at this date, it's almost dark below the soybean foliage, yet the rye thrives.

The tenacity of rye aerially seeded into soybeans.

Fall rye that was strip-tilled in the fall. The planter had DAWN® row cleaners on to clear the path for the row of corn. Again, this field is not going to erode with either the wind nor the water. The track between the rows has been made by spring sidedressing of 28% nitrogen solution.

Rye strip tilled in the fall to clear path for corn.

To my amazement, a duck also seemed to like the cover crop by building her nest between the corn rows.

Duck nest in cover crop between corn rows.

A strip tilled corn field. This field went through a 5" rain in 1 hour and did not wash. This is also a hilly field that is subject to erosion in a clean tillage environment. Now with a hard 2" rain, I'm more apt to retain a net 2" of moisture all over the field versus before with nothing on the tops or sides of the hill and 4" on the bottom.

Strip tilled corn field went through rain and did not wash.

A very simple soybean practice. Harvest the corn in the fall. Next, plant the soybeans the next spring with no attachments on the planter. During my 6 years of tillage studies in the Monsanto Center of Excellence program, the 30' no-tilled soybeans were consistently the most profitable.

No-till soybean on corn profitable.

This rye strip was burned down too late with Roundup® in the spring. The rye has already crowded out the corn.

Rye strip burned down too late crowding out corn.

This is fall aerially seeded rye that was subsequent fall strip tilled. At this stage, the rye is just on the verge of precluding a successful stand of corn. The stage of growth and burndown of the rye is critical for the corn in the spring. This photo shows the rye just short of "sodding over."

Fall aerially seeded rye strip tilled precluding corn.

To me, it's just amazing to see significant water and wind erosion at this time and place in history. The tools and research are at hand to almost eliminate significant erosion overnight!

Ray Rauenhorst – farmer

MDA Contact

Mark Zumwinkle, Soil Scientist/Researcher
Ag Marketing & Development Division