By James Hoorman, Hoorman Soil Health Services
As the weather warms and snow melts, many fields are saturated with standing water. While cover crops may improve drainage, they are not a cure all. A farmer with no tile or subsurface drainage once asked why the cover crop’s he planted did not improve his drainage. Fields need an outlet for water to drain away whether that be surface drainage or subsurface (tile) drainage. Most plant roots do not grow in water, and when the water table is high, root growth is severely limited due to a lack of oxygen. Even cover crops needs some internal drainage to maximize root growth.
Cover crops improve soil structure, add soil organic matter (SOM), and create root channels to move water into existing tile lines. Cover crops may make your existing drainage system work more efficiently. Many farmers today are splitting 40 to 50-foot tile lines that was installed years ago to improve drainage.