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Posted 28 October 2014. PMN Crop News.

Planting Cover Crops Plan for Success

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Press Release.

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois (October 9, 2014)--There is a tremendous amount of interest in cover crops right now and there are good reasons for that. Research on growing cover crops has shown the many benefits of this conservation practice. Some of the proven benefits are: reduce soil erosion, reduce loss of valuable plant nutrients, improve soil aggregation, and relief of soil compaction.


Having worked with and grown cover crops for the past four years, here are my thoughts for a farmer wanting to grow cover crops for the first time. The most important thing a farmer can do is "Plan for Success".

To be successful in your first attempt, here are the keys to success: plant the right crop, timely planting of the crop, a plan for terminating the cover crops and a backup plan for terminating cover crop in case the first plan does not happen.

Plant the right crop to succeed. There are several cover crop species that are easy to establish and easy to terminate, they include: oilseed radishes, spring oats, cereal rye and winter wheat.

Annual ryegrass has gotten a lot of press in the past two years and it is a great conservation crop that is easy to establish, but difficult to terminate. In my experience and in talking with Mike Plumer, an Illinois cover crop consultant, we agree that annual ryegrass should be grown by farmers that are comfortable with growing cover crops and terminating them. You cannot cut corners when it comes to terminating annual ryegrass with glyphosate (acidified spray water, AMS, etc.).

Timely planting means that most cover crops, except for cereal rye and other winter grains, must be planted by about the 15th of September to ensure enough growth to attain the desired benefits. This means the seed will be seeded into a standing crop, most likely. Winter wheat can be planted up until mid-October. Cereal rye can be planted up until the 1st of November, so you have more planting options.

Terminating the cover crop is very easy with spring oats and oilseed radish, because these crops will winter kill. Any other crop will probably survive the winter and you have to have a control plan in place. Remember any crop is easiest controlled when it is small and young. Glyphosate is very effective in controlling the winter grains before they reach the "joint stage". This is where a "Plan B" is a vital key to successful cover cropping plan for a wet spring and how to handle that condition.

In summary, the easiest cover crops to terminate are those that winter kill, but they have to be planted by about September 15. In my opinion, the easiest cover crop to plant is cereal rye, but it has to be controlled in the spring.

For more information on cover crops, visit the Midwest Cover Crop Council's website, it is a fantastic source of reliable materials:

Douglas B. Gucker