If you are adopting cover crops start with a plan that includes the right species, right planting date and right planting method. And don’t hesitate to do some experimenting on your own.
Adopting cover crops for many growers is a challenge because they invest too little time and effort. For others the additional risk and management associated with cover crops may be too threatening to even get started. However, there are other growers who have successfully adopted cover crops and made them a part of their regular crop production system.
Cover crops require management and deserve as much planning and consideration as any other farm input or practice. La Crosse Seed has developed our “10 Steps for Successful Cover Cropping” as a guideline to help growers get their foot in the water when it comes to trying cover crops on their own acres.
- Have a goal when planting a cover crop. Ask yourself, “What do I want to get accomplished by planting a cover crop and what benefits do I want to work towards?”
- Select the right cover crops to help you reach your goals. There are many species on the market and each species has a distinct set of characteristics aimed towards achieving different outcomes. Wrong choices can lead to more problems than when you started.
- Have a plan! Think about the changes to your current farming system that may be needed to allow for correct establishment (and management).
Modifying your crop rotation (perhaps the addition of another crop to your rotation allows for a wider planting window in the fall)
Planting some acres to varieties that mature earlier in the fall so covers can be planted sooner
Altering the previous crop’s harvest slightly, allowing for more timing flexibility
Adjusting your herbicide program to allow for timely cover crop seeding
Integrating an additional pass in fall and/or spring for planting and spring termination
- Select a field or areas of your farm that will benefit the most from a cover crop.
- Think small acres starting out. Consider the new management concepts needed when first trying cover crops.
- Get seed ordered sooner than later. It may take longer than you think for our less-traditional seeds to make their way to you. Good, clean seed will be in the most demand (remember it’s seed, not grain). Seeds need to be professionally grown and maintained to ensure good quality and germination).
- Allocate labor and equipment. Depending on your seeding plan, it may be imperative to have extra help in the summer/fall to allow for the quickest seeding after cash crop harvest. If the plan includes using custom seeding, communicate your plans early to ensure the timeliest application.
- Consider leaving a check strip for comparison. How better to determine progress than by seeing uncovered ground side-by-side?
- Balance your goals and spring management wisely. Even the perfect cover crop not managed or terminated correctly in the spring can lead to huge setbacks for your subsequent cash crop.
- Make a commitment. Some goals are well defined and easily achieved, but improving soil health is a journey, not a destination. It takes time to regenerate soils and doing so demands that producers consider long-term expectations, no matter their initial goals or objectives.
CCA Scott Wohltman is the cover crop lead at La Crosse Seed. He focuses on educating the agricultural communities of the Midwest on the importance and benefits of cover crops.