CW 9-11-2009 Forage Cover Crops

CW 9-11-2009 Forage Cover Crops

September 11, 2009

Ground that lies bare for eight to nine months following early corn and bean harvests has two things working against it. One is exposure to wind and water erosion. The second is that it’s not growing anything.

In both instances, cover crops might be the solution.

To select the best cover crop for your operation, consider what you want to achieve with it. For example, hairy vetch is an excellent cover crop if you want to improve your soil by planting a legume that will produce nitrogen for next year’s crop. Or maybe use a deep-rooted radish to breakup some hardpans.

Are you still hoping for some feed this fall? While vetch and radish both can be grazed, oats might be a better choice because oats has the greatest forage yield potential in the fall. Oats also will die over winter so it won’t interfere with next year’s crop. But, dead residue from oats is not very durable, so it provides less effective soil protection and for a shorter duration.

For better soil protection, rye is the best choice among the cereals. And rye can provide abundant growth early next spring to get cows off of hay sooner. Wheat and triticale also can be good cover crops. Wheat can be harvested later for grain while triticale makes a good late spring hay or silage.

You also may want to consider planting a mixture of several types of plants to reap some of the benefits of each one.

This fall, consider following yoru crops with a cover crop to preserve or even improve your soil.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist