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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Watch: How Farmers are Trying to Protect the Soil

Jack Williams for Harvest Public Media
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln inspect a field planted with cover crops.

What's old is new again, at least on some Midwest farms.  Winter cover crops have been used by farmers for centuries, but over the last decade or so they have once again started to become more popular.

The idea is to create biomass in fields that would typically be dormant over the winter. Cover crops like vetch, rye, kale and winter peas can grow after a corn harvest, maintaining live roots in the ground on farm fields in an effort to control erosion, preserve moisture in the soil, and to keep damaging chemicals on fields and out of streams.

Recent surveys show that nationwide the share of farmers who have planted cover crops, or plant to, is growing.

Here, however, is the tricky part: It’s hard to know exactly when to plant cover crops so they have time to grow without disrupting the farmer’s money-making crops, like corn and soybeans.    

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hope to solve that timing issue. They’re planting cover crops at different times in the fall and using various methods to spread the seed. They say unless farmers are sure cover crops won’t reduce yields and aren’t tying up important nutrients in the soil, they probably won’t be willing to plant them.

Farmers who do plant cover crops are usually looking to the future with hopes that by building good soil, cover crops will pay off in the long run.

For more on cover crop research, see the video below.">