With harvest season coming to a close, many farmers have begun getting a head start on their spring crops.

Fall is widely seen as the most vital time of the year on the farm as it is the prime time for farmers to prepare for spring by planting cover crops to protect the soil through the winter. These crops, which include winter wheat and rye, have been grown in farm fields during the fall for many years. These crops are not harvested and are destroyed in the spring should they have survived the winter. This destruction typically takes place before spring crop planting begins.

Cover crops have taken on a bit more of a mix in recent years, with plants including radish, turnips, oats, and winter peas among others. Kerry Nielsen, a soil conservationist with the Washington USDA office and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says soils are one of the most important of the natural resources. He says cover crops have always been extremely important to farmers when it comes to maintaining the fertility of the soil.

According to Nielsen, many farmers are moving back to the cover crop concept in order to enhance health and productivity in their soil. Nielsen says the crops mainly add organic matter and increase the activity level of microbial in the soil, which makes the soil healthier and more productive.

Cover crops have numerous benefits in helping the soil. These include weed control and reducing soil erosion and compaction. They also serve to lower the contributions of farming to the damage done to surface waters by eroding soil.

Anyone wanting more information on cover crops or conservation of soil can contact Kerry Nielsen at 254-4780 extension 3. They can also stop by the Natural Resources Conservation Service office, which is located in the 2500 block of East National Highway in Washington.