3 Tips for Cover Crop Success

FBN Network

Oct 20, 2023

Cover crops can be an excellent tool for protecting and enhancing the overall health of your fields. While there can be some added upfront costs, such as purchasing seed, many farmers are utilizing cover crops within their operation because of the long-term benefits.

Cover Crop Benefits

  • Improved soil structure: Utilizing cover crops can increase the amount of organic matter in the field, enhance soil health and limit soil moisture loss. Some cover crops also help the soil better sequester nitrogen.

  • Environmental protection: Having a cover crop in the field can help reduce soil erosion, limit pollution from leaching fertilizers and enhance water quality.

  • Lowered input costs: Cover crops help suppress weeds and control diseases and insects, reducing the need for herbicide and insecticide. Since the soil is more likely to retain fertilizers, cover crops also help manage fertilizer costs.

How to Maximize Your Cover Crop Investment

1. Define Your Goals

You might utilize a cover crop to reduce soil erosion and provide additional forage for your livestock, or to break up soil compaction and achieve deeper rooting for your next cash crop. Maybe you just want to increase your organic matter and sequester available nitrogen.

While these are all possible outcomes, they may require a different starting point — seed, planting method or management plan — to get there.

Set your goal early so you can make sure you take the best steps to benefit your operation.

2. Understand Your Cover Crop Choices

Once you know what your goals are, you can determine your seed needs. Clover or hairy vetch could be a solution to a nitrogen fixation issue. Radishes can help break up soil compaction. Annual and perennial ryegrass may help slow erosion and provide groundcover.

Give some thought to utilizing a mix of species in order to get the greatest benefit from planting cover crops. Try to avoid including a species in your cover crop mix that you may plant in your field in the next growing season, as this might allow an overwintering pest easier access to your upcoming crop.

3. Make the Best Use of Your Timeline

Timing is key in cover crops. Some varieties may need more time to get established, so it's important to make sure you’re using your cover crop investment on the fields where it is the most likely to have a healthy start. For example, a cover crop like rye or wheat can be planted later in the season, while oats or crimson clover will need an earlier planting to get established.

Consider when you anticipate harvesting a particular field and include that information in your decision-making process. In some cases, it may be possible to do an aerial seeding into your standing crop. This would be beneficial in cases where the crop is still in the field but waiting to seed your cover crop could lead to poor establishment.

Sometimes cover crops are seen as a “nice to have” if you just happen to have the time and money to invest in a particular crop year. But with a little early planning, cover crops can become a fundamental part of your farming operation, offering your farm long-term benefits.

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FBN Network

Oct 20, 2023

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