A southeast Minnesota farmer started using cover crops roughly 20 years ago.
Today, we hear how this practice has evolved on his farm.
Tom Cotter, a fourth-generation farmer of Austin, Minnesota, shares why he decided to give cover crops a chance.
“My dad liked seeing me work, so he made me go out and plant Dwarf Essex Rapeseed. I didn’t know anything about it, but as we did it and started watching the benefits, it started opening our eyes,” Cotter said. “We had a tile plow, so we did some tilling, farm drainage. Then I started looking at it from one- to two feet below the soil surface and started seeing all these great benefits that came from these cover crops.”
Cotter admits, “We made a lot of mistakes. But, we saw a lot of good benefits.” He speaks to the benefits he has witnessed first hand over the past couple of decades.
“The first thing I saw with cover crops was good weed suppression – I got to use less chemicals. Then I started noticing that my drainage was working better, even where I didn’t have tile. Reducing my tillage, I noticed how the water started sinking in better,” Cotter said.
Cotter, reminiscing of farming with his father, recalls him saying, “The only about thing about cover crops is I need more cows.” The Cotter family then started raising grass-fed cattle on their cover crop acres.
“I always look for something that overwinters. Winter rye, cereal rye is the staple program. I also like to throw in diversity. With grass-fed cattle, if I want to finish those cattle, I need more diversity and that’s what helps me get there. I like a good red clover. I use bayou kale, which doesn’t overwinter, but will stand pretty good during the wintertime,” Cotter said
Cotter uses cover crops across his operation and encourages others to look into the benefits of this sustainable practice.