CHENOA, Ill. — The McLean County Soil and Water Conservation District recently hosted a cover crop tour.

American Farmland Trust, the Nature Conservancy, Lumpkin Family Foundation, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service partnered with the McLean County SWCD to promote this conservation practice.

Cover crops are grown between regular grain crop production periods and are meant to protect the soil from erosion and improve crop yields.

Cover crops also hold nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in their roots, reducing chemical runoff into nearby water sources. Plants used as cover crops are normally types of grasses, small grains and legumes.

Among the tour stops was the Don Jacobs farm, near Chenoa, which is in its first year of utilizing cover crops. Jacobs’ 85-acre field is adjacent to Interstate 55 and is among 14 throughout the state serving as demonstration sites for the IDA.

After doing his own research and observing other cover crop practices, Jacobs decided to try it.

“I’ve watched it with some of my farm management operators, so I had a little bit of familiarity with the planting process and the burn-down in the spring,” he said.

His plot is a collaborative effort between several groups.

“NRCS spearheaded that and picked the location for its visibility near the interstate. I’ve signed a three-year (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) agreement,” he said. “I’ll have that plot on the adjacent field next year and then back on this one, so I think it’s at least a three-year commitment, although maybe I can try to keep that program on for while.”

The field was aerial seeded with the north half being a ProHarvest Bristol Blend of annual ryegrass and radish and the south half ryegrass.

Cover crops fit into Jacobs’ production system and his belief in conservation.

“The radish has an initial benefit just from improved soil tilth,” he said. “I’ve been about half no-till, but looking at doing more and more either no-till or strip-till, so that seemed to be an advantage.

“Also, reading about it, the nitrogen capture fit in well with the Conservation Stewardship Program that I’m also in. It’s just basically building soil.”

He is learning as he goes in trying to find the best approach.

“The spring knockdown will be a little extra expense, but I was having more and more winter annuals and marestail coming up, so I was still spraying in the spring anyway, so that will pretty much be the same program, so it probably won’t be any extra expense,” he said.

“The seed cost and application expense is considerable, so that’s something to work on, and I think I’ve learned some things during this tour that might help offset that.”

“Plus, I’m still looking at the possibility of doing ground application. Now, that may not be the right course. Everything needs to be looked at,” he said.