Safeguard Your Cover Crop Seed By Eliminating Weeds, Dirt And Chaff

Cover Crop ( Sonja Begemann )

Farmers are scrambling this summer to find sufficient cover-crop seed because of an ongoing tight supply of many key species. In their haste, some may end up using a less-than-ideal seed product. Prevent this from happening to you by considering the following practices.

Anna Morrow, Midwest Cover Crops Council program manager says the most important step you can take is to plant clean cover-crop seed.

Noah Young, head mixer at Green Cover Seed, Bladen, Neb., says the company’s No. 1 priority in cleaning seed is to eliminate any weeds that are present. This will prevent the possibility that you’ll plant seed contaminated with any noxious weeds, such as Palmer amaranth.

“A lot of weeds that are harvested with a crop are actually fairly easy to clean out,” Young notes. “But if you are purchasing seed directly from the field [and then planting it] you are importing all of the weeds that were harvested with the crop and planting them in your field.” 

That issue has the potential to be more of a problem this year than in most, because many farmers are moving quickly to get a cover crop established on their prevented plant acres, some of which have sat barren this season until now.

If you’re looking to keep expenses to a minimum by using bin-run seed, consider that it also needs to be cleaned prior to planting.

“Bin-run crops are often full of junk that can plug up a drill really easily,” Young notes. “By cleaning the seed over a screen you can make sure everything is sized correctly and won't plug up a drill.”

One other caution to consider. If you plan to use bin-run seed from your neighbor, you could be breaking the law. With some species of cover crops Young says Plant Variety Protection Act regulations are in play and, at the very least, your neighbor will need to be able to verify that he cleaned the seed prior to any transaction.

“Clean seed should always be tested in order to legally be sold,” Young notes. “Usually, dirty seed has lower purity because there's more inert matter than in clean seed.” 

If you need someone to clean cover-crop seed, call your local retailer. Some now offer seed-cleaning services.