Cover Crop Options for Unseeded Fields
For unseeded fields, the key benefits of cover crops are weed suppression, soil protection from sun and rain, and building organic matter. They can also be source of forage and bedding.
When selecting a cover crop consider the cropping system needs, herbicide or fertilizer previously applied and resources that are readily available. For example, carrying over treated soybean seed is not considered a good practice in Ontario due to the potential for significant decline in germination. Treated soybean seed can make a good addition to a cover crop planting.
Cropping system needs
Field will be planted to winter wheat in the fall of 2019
Cover crop options:
Control the cover crop two weeks prior to seeding winter wheat.
Alternatively, there is the option to plant nothing, and leave the field bare. Weeds would be controlled through herbicides or tillage, but both of these options cost money, won't protect the soil from rain and sun damage and are less effective at managing weeds than cover crops in combination with herbicides.
Field not intended for winter wheat in the fall of 2019
Cover crop options:
Cover crops planted in early July have the potential for significant top growth by fall and in the case of radish, seed set. Manage cover crops or terminate to avoid seed set and potential weed problems next year.
All of these cover crop options will respond well to manure application and will scavenge nutrients.
Forage is required for feed and spring seeding was impossible
Tonnage is needed:
Digestible fibre/energy is needed:
Protein is needed:
Options for grazing
Almost anything can be grazed. In addition to the above options, consider adding forage brassicas (rape, kale, turnip, radish, etc.) to a mix for increased protein. Brassica leaves do not dry and store well; most producers do not have equipment to harvest roots for storage. Crop residues can provide good grazing for mature animals with low maintenance requirements. Avoid hairy vetch, buckwheat, and mustard in mixes to be grazed.
If straw is needed for bedding or as fibre in feed rations, any spring cereal can produce straw. Spring triticale or rye will produce more straw than oats while barley will produce slightly less. Spring cereals seeded this late in the season do not tiller well. Seed at 75 to 80 lbs/acre. The crop will need 30 to 50 lbs of actual nitrogen to achieve good growth. Plan to desiccate ten days after heading to prevent grain formation and aid in baling.
How you plant the cover crop will also depend on your goal with the cover crop. If you are looking for cover crops to provide forage use a drill to seed to ensure even placement and faster more consistent establishment. If the goal is to get soil covered quickly, broadcast seed and use light tillage to cover the seed. It may seem to be faster to just broadcast seed but this leaves germination dependent on surface moisture, which can disappear quickly in summer conditions.
Herbicide residues may be of concern in some fields. The following link provides more information on cover crop sensitivity to herbicide residues.
Cover crop seed availability can vary regionally, check with local suppliers or find a supplier.
For more information:
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