Cover Crop Customers' Fields
If you aren't offering your growers cover crop tips and inputs, you and they may be missing out. Fast growing companies are springing up to fill the gap, and cover crop acres are growing fast. This year's drought is feeding the frenzy and creating even greater need for “between crop” crops. Shortages of popular cover crops are reported and expected to get worse and for good reason.
"There are a couple of issues this fall that have raised interest in cover crops," said Hans Kok, coordinator, Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. "The enormous shortage of forage and hay, combined with crops coming off early or being plowed down in some cases, makes planting a mixture of peas and oats or annual rye grass and forage turnips worthwhile for those needing grazing or forage to harvest."
Hans Kok Kok also reported concerns about 15 percent to 20 percent of corn stalk samples tested, tested high in nitrogen (N). That is an issue if it is fed as forage, however, the fact that 80 percent or more didn't test high, means a lot of free N was left in the field that the plant was unable to move into grain due to the drought. That nitrogen will not stay in the soil waiting for the next crop to be planted."Growers could lose up to 100 pounds of N per acre if they do nothing," said Kok. "Cover crops can sequester the N and hold it or bank it as organic matter."
Kok recommended crops like daikon radishes with oats, as they will soak up N and die out over winter, requiring no management next spring before planting. In the case of fields going into soybeans, he suggested cereal rye as it will take up a lot of N and produce lots of biomass to hold the soil. "It helps with N, reduces erosion and provides great weed control, too," said Kok. "Those with more experience with cover crops might try a mix of crimson clover, annual rye and radishes. The radishes bank the N and help with compaction. Turnips don't do as much that way; however, they provide good feed value for cattle."
Demand for cover crops this fall, like the ones pictured above of rye grain and radishes, could be high due to the drought. But seed supplies may be tight. Pennsylvania farmers have been early adopters of cover crops, driven in large part by fertilizer runoff concerns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Recognition of forage and grazing values are increasing in that livestock-heavy state. "Hairy vetch used to be our leguminous cover crop of choice, but we had some failures. Crimson clover seems to be more consistent, and the seeding rate is about half that of hairy vetch," said Sjoerd Duiker, associate professor, Soil Management and Applied Physics, Penn State University. "We've experimented with fava beans, which are likely to winter-kill, but put on a lot of biomass in the fall and as a legume can fix a lot of nitrogen.