We live on a paved county road, but there’s a gravel township road across the road from our driveway. This gravel road is where I do a lot of my walking and running. The road goes past the cropland we rent from Glen’s cousin and then past several other fields and farms.
This spring, each run down the gravel road has been enhanced by the most beautiful sight: the color green.    
The cover crop we planted last fall emerged as one of our best covers yet. When the snow melted, a lush green carpet was unveiled. Weeks before either our established alfalfa or our pasture returned to green, the ryegrass seemed to be shouting its greenness from the rooftops.    
There was something about seeing that rich, emerald green color – when the rest of the landscape was still locked in the drab tans and browns of late winter – that brought me extra joy.    
Maybe it’s the science of the color, which shows that seeing green can relax our nervous systems and promote calm feelings.     
Or maybe it’s knowing that our fields are already alive, harvesting sunlight, feeding the soil’s biology, and generating organic matter that will either enrich our soil or feed our cows.    
We’ve been planting cover crops for the better part of the last decade. Cover crops help up protect the limited cropland acreage we farm and, depending on the year, allow us to harvest an extra forage crop.    
Before we started covering our corn ground each fall, we used alfalfa as a cover crop. We left the alfalfa in the field over winter, let it green up in the spring, harvested a first cutting, and then no-tilled corn into the stubble. We still manage our alfalfa-corn transitions this way.    
Not every central Minnesota fall has been cover crop friendly. A couple years ago, the corn silage came off too late and the temperature dropped too early and we didn’t get a cover crop established. But I figure one winter of naked fields is better than always having naked fields.    
Speaking of naked fields, I made two trips to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, this spring – one for Central Plains Dairy Expo and one to visit my sister over Easter break. There was a lot of windshield time looking at way too many acres of naked cropland.     
A little way south of Jasper, however, there was an emerald in the rough. From miles away you could see the greenness, shining out of the otherwise drab panorama like a neon sign. Again, it was a sight for sore eyes. The best part about this farmer’s cover crops, though, were the signs staked alongside Highway 23 that read “Cover Crop Enhanced.” Kudos to that farmer for calling attention to the benefits of cover crops – all of us that cover our cropland ought to be doing the same.
I’m delighted to see that cover crops have been getting more attention recently, not just for their ability to protect soil, but also for their capacity to sequester carbon.  I’ve lost count of the number of emails, webinar invitations, etc. we’ve received this spring about companies looking to enter the carbon market – to purchase carbon credits from farmers to offset their carbon use and, thereby, reduce their carbon footprints.     
I was also delighted to hear that Minnesota may soon begin helping farmers with cover crop establishment. Several agriculture groups worked together this winter on a soil health bill that will use Clean Water Funds to create a soil health cost-share program. Hopefully, this funding will help convince more farmers to give cover crops a try. There’s certainly room for great cover crop adoption. Of Minnesota’s 25.4 million acres of cropland, 2017 data shows only 579,000 acres were planted to a cover crop.
Cover crops also made the news this past month for their ability to conserve another farm resource: cash. Data from Minnesota’s Farm Business Management program shows that Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certified farms had 20% higher profits than non-certified farms. I’m guessing that’s without payments from carbon trading. Those profits will only go up as carbon becomes more widely commoditized.    
With all of these developments in the realm of cover crops, I think it’s time for a cover crop marketing campaign: See green. Save green. Make green.     
Sounds like a good slogan for the signs I’m going to put up in our fields.    
If you’re interested in learning more about cover crops, soil health, and carbon sequestration, I highly recommend looking into the work of Ray Archuleta and Frank Mitloehner. Archuleta is a soil scientist, farmer, and founder of the Soil Health Academy. Mitloehner is a professor and air quality specialist in the Department of Animal Science at University of California – Davis; he is also the director of the Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research Center, which studies the relationship between livestock and air quality.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 13, Monika, 11, and Daphne, 7. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.