Small Grain Off, Cover Crop On

green rye rsz

As small grains are coming off fields, it’s time to consider cover crops. Joel Hagen of Deer Creek Seed offered these reasons for cover crops:

  1. to reduce erosion;
  2. to increase soil organic matter;
  3. to increase water holding capacity;
  4. to improve soil structure;
  5. to reduce the impact of insects, nematodes, and some diseases;
  6. to reduce nitrogen purchases and lower costs.

“The effectiveness of cover crops is a function time,” Hagen said. Planting the cover crop soon after grain harvest provides a longer growing period, and that improves root nodulation which increases nitrogen production and retention for the next crop. 

Cover crops improve the biomass both above and below ground as roots break up compacted soil and plants contribute to the soil’s organic matter. Cover crops also lower soil loss as they reduce the impact of rain and increase infiltration rates.

Choosing the right cover crop depends on the desired results:

  1. improve nitrogen levels by planting legume seeds including peas, beans, and clover crops;
  2. help aerate compacted soils with seeds like radishes and mustards. Additionally, radish and mustards naturally reduce nematode levels in soybean, corn, potato and sugar beet fields; 
  3. suppress the growth of troublesome weeds such as foxtail and crabgrass with small grains like oats and barley;
  4. retain nutrients from fall and winter manure applications by planting winter rye and wheats.

Talk to your Federated Agronomist to discuss the best cover crops to follow your small grain harvest.