Time to Start Thinking About Cover Crops

As wheat harvest begins in the Midwest it’s time to start thinking about cover crops. The window between wheat or corn silage harvest and the end of the season can be a favorable time to establish a cover crop, but it is important to plan ahead and consider your options before moving forward.

Cover crops can help to contribute, retain and efficiently cycle nutrients, suppress weeds, protect the soil from wind and water erosion, and enhance soil quality. However, to maximize the benefits you receive from your late summer or fall cover crop there are a number of things to consider, one of the most important being what you are trying to accomplish with your cover crop. Selection depends on what you hope to get from the cover. Are you looking for a crop to add extra nitrogen? Or for a fast growing hay crop for extra forage? Or for a crop to break up soil compaction? Possibly there is a need for some ground to spread excess manure and a cover crop to hold on to that manure. Many growers will be looking to fill the niche after wheat or corn silage with a cover that will winterkill or can be terminated easily in the fall or spring.

Summer annual legumes such as soybeans, crimson clover, cowpeas or sunn hemp can provide extra nitrogen, and will winterkill. Tillage radish can help to break up compacted layers. Sorghum-sudangrass can be a good choice for producers looking for emergency forage or to simply hold on to the nutrients coming from manure applications. Cool season crops include field peas, red or white clovers. These crops may establish better as we move into cooler fall weather, although N fixation from clovers may be minimal if they are terminated the next spring. Winter rye, oats and triticale are options for fall planting as well. Many cover crop mixtures including small grains and/or legumes along with radishes may have utility; however, remember that timing of establishment is important. Seeding tillage radish after early September may still have benefits, but roots will not develop the girth commonly seen in advertisements.

 

“The window between wheat or corn silage harvest and the end of the season can be a favorable time to establish a cover crop.”

 

Midwestern BioAg is proud to be able to provide our customers with Cover Crop Solutions cover crop seed. CCS has designed a number of cover crop mixes that can be a good fit for planting in the late summer/early fall.

  • Tillage Max DoverTM includes Tillage Radish® and oats. This mix provides rapid biomass accumulation in cool fall weather, effectively scavenges nitrogen and can improve soil structure. The fibrous root system of the oats compliments the radish’s taproot to efficiently use resources, and that taproot breaks down quickly in the spring, releasing nutrients.
    • Seed 3-10 weeks before a killing frost. Drill at 25 lb/ac or broadcast at 30 lb/acre.
  • Tillage Max CharlotteTM contains Tillage Radish® as well, but in this case with triticale and crimson clover. Triticale is an excellent N scavenger, and being a winter annual, will overwinter and regrow in the spring, providing early season erosion control and stimulating biological activity earlier due to the production of root exudates. Crimson clover may winter kill in Wisconsin, but can fix nitrogen in the fall if planted early enough and tends to fix more nitrogen when planted in combination with non-legumes than when planted alone.
    • Seed 3-10 weeks before a killing frost (early seeding means more nitrogen fixation). Drill at 40 lb/ac or broadcast at 50 lb/ac.
  • Tillage Max HomesteadTM includes Tillage Radish® along with sunn hemp and sorghum-sudangrass. This mix is an option after wheat harvest as it includes warm-season crops. This mix produces a large amount of biomass quickly and can can be grazed, baled or cut for silage. Sunn hemp is a tropical legume that can fix substantial amounts of nitrogen quickly.
    • Seed at least 8 weeks before a killing frost. Drill at 15 lb/ac