Cover Crop Customers' Fields
Duiker described new companies stepping in to fill the gap when retailers hold back. "They focus on selling cover crop seed as part of a cover crop solution," he said. "The companies are becoming pretty sophisticated, just as the growers are. Growers used to order cover crops without knowing which variety they purchased. Now they want to know what variety and where it is from. This was caused by some issues with cover crop seed we didn't know enough about. Barley from the South, for example, is often not winter hardy in Pennsylvania. Selecting a variety for the area that is winter hardy is important."
Millborn Seeds, though not new, is growing with grower interest in cover crops. Originally offering turf and forage grasses, customer demand has refocused the company on forage/cover crops. As a result, the company is growing in other ways, becoming more full service. They have added agricultural biologicals, mycorrhizal fungi and some crop protectants. Seed remains the main business; Millborn carries almost every kind of seed but corn and soybeans.
"We have around 50 different species, including brassicas, turnips, legumes as well as grasses," said Justin Fruechte, Milborn Seeds. "We can tweak blends based on what the customer needs."
Fruechte recommended planting small seeded varieties that require very little moisture to germinate when planting into dry, hard packed ground with very little residue. "Things like turnip work really well as a late season cover crop with cold tolerance and high feed quality," he said. "Millet is very drought tolerant and another small seed. Of course, it is always good to have grass in the mix, especially when grazing is planned."
Duiker, Kok and Fruechte pointed to a tremendous shortage in cover crop seed this year. Prices have already shot up, and many cover crops are in short supply with some already difficult to get. "Cereal rye seed priced at $20 per bushel this year normally sells for $9 and commonly for $7," said Duiker.
"There is already a huge deficit in cereal rye grain and triticale, as short as we've ever seen, and we haven't even hit planting time," said Fruechte. "As people start getting rain, I expect demand will jump more."
Tom Kaspar Helping growers identify the cover crops that (if available) will do them the most good given their needs will be easier if they live in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. Those states and province, soon to be joined by Iowa and Illinois, are part of a Midwest Cover Crop Council website (www.mccc.msu.edu) cover crop selector tool.