Question: Are you recommending that farmers plant cover crops this fall?
Answer: In a lot of scenarios, we believe a cover crop could be really useful to farmers this fall. If your corn or soybean crops didn’t yield to their potential this year, you still have an opportunity to plant another crop to increase your soil’s health, minimize erosion and even provide additional forage value. Many fall-planted cover crops, if moisture returns, could provide livestock feed in the spring.
Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist, says several small grains and grasses, depending on your geographic region, can be planted in September or October. He suggests choosing some "nitrogen-scavenger" cover crops, which are crops that trap soil nitrates which would otherwise stay in your field or move into groundwater.
A few good nitrogen-hungry cover crops that also provide forage benefits include annual ryegrass, winter rye and winter wheat. These crops can be lightly grazed in the fall if weather conditions favor growth, and there is an expectation to produce more abundant forage the following spring.
Here at Farm Journal, we’re also recommending that farmers consider using radishes and oats, particularly if you haven’t planted cover crops before. They’re easy to work with, and they’ll freeze out over the winter so you won’t have to worry about managing them next spring. Visit the Midwest Cover Crops Council’s website at www.mccc.ms.edu to access an online cover crop decision tool to see what cover crops are well suited for your region and use.
If you’re seriously considering a cover crop, we would encourage you to line up your cover crop seed supply now as there may be seed shortages. One other thing, consider the type of herbicide you applied to your corn or soybean field earlier this summer. Some herbicides have restrictions because residuals can damage forage crop seeding. Be sure to check your labels and confirm the maximum restriction period has passed.