It is time to start thinking about cover crops

July 30, 2018

Brian Marlatt, Office Manager 

Fall will be here before we know it and for the cover crop user that means it is time to begin creating a plan of attack for the season.   I had the opportunity last week to work with a long-time friend and customer to plant a cover crop demonstration plot.  This plot is located at our main research location and hopefully we will have a nice stand established by field day time.  Part of what makes working with this grower so much fun is his farm’s passion for conservation and commitment to cover crops.

To be successful with cover crops, a few things need to be kept in mind.  First off, what is your goal of this cover crop? Secondly, what is your application plan? Third, what is your budget? Fourth and finally, what is your back-up plan?

What is your goal for this cover crop? This is typically the first question I ask when discussing cover crop options.  When working with different growers, we get many different answers.  The goals of our growers range from scavenging nitrogen after a manure application to covering basic EQUIP requirements. The goal of the cover crop helps determine what kind of cover to plant and timing. For the plot, our goal is to have a well-established stand for our field day on August 17.

What is your application plan?  This question often has more answers than the goal.  Many growers will wait until after harvest to spread cover crops.  However, many growers are choosing an aerial application to get the stand established earlier and provide a longer growing window for some of the warm season species.  Application method will dictate possible cover crop options and seeding rates. At our demonstration plot, we chose to lightly disc the soil, broadcast the seed, and then pulled a packer over the plot to create good seed-to-soil contact.

What is your budget?  As much as we hate to admit it, available budget plays a large part in the cover crop decision.  At the low end of the spectrum, growers may broadcast wheat or cereal rye after harvest.  This practice is effective for creating cover to minimize erosion and hold nutrients over winter.  The higher end would be a multiple-species mix broadcast from a plane.  This option is usually determined by growers who are looking to utilize radishes most effectively, or who have a grazing opportunity in the fall.  The crops with a tangible benefit, such as grazing, are easier to justify a higher budget.  The budget ultimately falls on the grower to assign a value to cover crops on their operation.

What is your back-up plan? Often the weather in the fall can ruin the best laid plans.  Delayed harvest can really change seeding plans for cover crops planted after harvest.  The most reliable method of getting cover crop seeded is aerial application.  Harvest timing or saturated soils do not affect an airplane.  For those growers seeding after harvest, selection can change based on the fall.  During an early harvest, more choices are available due to the longer growing window.  A late harvest leaves less choices.  Keep a back-up in mind.

There is not a silver bullet for cover crops.  There is no “one fit” solution to cover crops.  We have many different options available.  If cover crops are part of your cropping system and you have questions about making the best decision for your farm, contact your seed specialist.  Your seed specialist will be able to help you answer these questions to create the best cover crop plan for your farm.

P.S.– Check out this link of the video we produced during the planting of our plot!