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COVER CROPS

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WHAT ARE COVER CROPS?

The Midwest Cover Crops Council states that "cover crops are plants seeded into agricultural fields, either within or outside of the regular growing season, with the primary purpose of improving or maintaining ecosystem quality". 

Check out the Midwest Cover Crops Council's popular pocket field guide, available as a mobile app for iPhone and Android! The pocket guide app is a convenient, handy resource that will help you to effectively select, grow, and use cover crops in your farming systems!

App for iPhone

App for Android

 
 

THE BENEFITS OF USING COVER CROPS

Benefits of Cover Crops

Not only do cover crops help the environment, they provide countless benefits to producers. By using cover crops, you can: 

  • Improve overall soil health and soil quality - Cover crops improve soil stability, increase organic matter and promote biological activity.

  • Rest easy knowing that your soil is staying in one place - Cover crops protect soil from rain or runoff by providing broad leaves to intercept the rain, and robust root systems to hold surface soil. 

  • Improve water quality - Cover crops prevent soil erosion and nutrient leaching into nearby water sources. 

  • Suppress weeds - Cover crops reduce weed growth by rapid establishment, direct competition and allelopathy (releasing growth-inhibitors). 

  • Increase nutrient availability to the cash crop - Cover crops have deep root systems that scavenge soil nutrients (like N, P & K) otherwise unavailable to the cash crop. Cover crops store these nutrients over the winter months. Termination of the cover results in the return of nutrients to the soil for use by the cash crop.  

  • Fix nitrogen - Cash crops that are legumes actively fix nitrogen in farm fields. 

COVER CROP MANAGEMENT

Seed Choice

  • See MCCC for suggestions for seed choices (http://mccc.msu.edu/)

  • Check with seed salesman if planting corn or soybeans

    • Most products have Plant Variety Protection (PVP) rights

  • Bin Run Seed “straight from the bin” is not suggested

    • Use is most likely restricted

    • Should be tested and cleaned if using

  • Corn

    • Can be used harvested as silage, NOT for grain or seed

  • Soybeans

    • Can be used but NOT harvested for seed

Planting

  • No till drill is preferred

    • Tillage negates most of the benefits of cover crops

  • Broadcast if field is tilled or can be aerial dropped

  • See MCCC for recommendations on seeding rates and dates (http://mccc.msu.edu/)

Management

  • Herbicides may be used on corn but strict adherence to label is a must

    • Must be safe if using for silage after September 1

  • Mow to suppress seed growth if necessary, flowering is acceptable

Termination​

  • Methods

    • Mowing once flowered but before seeded

    • Plowing into the soil

    • Herbicides

    • Rolling or crimping

    • Let it die off naturally by winter injury

    • Can hay, graze, or cut for silage, haylage, or baleage on prevent plant acreage after September 1

  • Important Dates

    • Varies on each species of cover crop and the next economic crop

    • Wait about 2 weeks after termination before planting next economic crop

    • Wait 6-8 weeks before planting small seeds (vegetables) after a sudex cover crop

 
 
 

CTIC PRESENTS: THE COVER CROP STORY

Helping people, land and water.

Watch the video here