Saving soil with cover crops

Podcast recording with a thumb-area farmer delves into how he uses cover crops to save soil and money.

Michigan State University Extension educators Monica Jean and Sarah Fronczak recorded a podcast with Dan Ritter, a farmer in the thumb area of Michigan, concerning the conservation practices he uses on his farm and his involvement in a farmer-led watershed group. Dan’s enthusiasm toward using cover crops is apparent, but he also uses filter strips, is primarily no-till, and applies manure from local dairy farms.

When he first started exploring the use of conservation practices, he “put it to the test” on his farm and found it was easier to work with Mother Nature than against her. Letting nature do the work for you by using tillage radish instead of tillage tools he refers to as “root force mentality.” He has fine-tuned his system to save money by using the cover crop as nutrient storage banks for both manure and commercial applied nutrients. These practices line up with MSU Extension cover crop team and the Midwest Cover Crop Decision Tool.

We also discussed why he and other farmers decided to create a farmer-led watershed group. One of their goals is to provide practical information that is good for the area to prevent “topsoil running of into the ditch that will need to get excavated the following year.”  Another benefit we discussed was, by improving your soil’s health, the field’s ability to hold water also improves, thereby slowing down the water and preventing nutrient leaching. We reflected on how that is not only good for the farmer financially but also a benefit to the community. Dan’s last piece of advice was “do some form of cover crop, keep the ground covered as much as possible - your soil will thank you because cover crops work.”

To get involved in the farmer-led watershed groups in the Saginaw Bay region, please visit us on Facebook or email us at More information about these groups can also be found in this article.

Listen to the Michigan Field Crops podcast channel for a new “In the Weeds” series exploring water quality farming. You will hear from farmers, agribusiness and MSU Extension educators. The podcast is available on Spotify, iTunes and embedded on the Field Crops Team website. New podcasts will be posted every week for this series. To receive notification on podcast posts, please subscribe to our channel: Michigan Field Crops.

This project is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant #00E02802, awarded to the Institute of Water Research at Michigan State University in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Association of Conservation Districts (MACD), Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), and MSU Extension.

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