Fall cover crop establishment

Steve Doench

At Agrible, sustainability is a major focus, and helping growers make decisions that have a positive impact on their farming operations is a core value. While cover crops may not be suitable for all situations, where they can be successfully incorporated, the benefits to water quality, reduced soil erosion, and reduced nutrient losses can make a very big impact at both local and larger scales.

Cover crops are slowly gaining popularity, and the benefits to soil health are a main draw for growers who adopt cover crop use. Time in the fall during harvest to seed cover crops can be a challenge, as well as termination in the spring ahead of summer crops. Many growers who decide to use cover crops will try to establish them as the summer crops are nearing maturity to get them established well before a first frost. Methods include broadcasting seeds with high clearance ground equipment or via aerial broadcast seeding. The dry finish to the current crop season in many areas around the United States has not been ideal for establishing cover crops that would have been seeded within the last few weeks. This makes post harvest seeding more important than most years for establishing cover crops this fall, especially in areas with a later first fall frost date—it may be getting too late in the northern half of the Corn Belt for cover crops other than crops like winter cereals.

     Annual Ryegrass                 Radish                                     Winter Cereal Rye                            Oats

     Annual Ryegrass                 Radish                                     Winter Cereal Rye                            Oats

To establish cover crops post harvest, grain drills are preferred over broadcast applications if the time and equipment is available. Better seed-to-soil contact helps ensure better emergence. With the current forecast showing the return of some rains to many central US areas over the next two weeks, fields that are being harvested this week would be good candidates to plant ahead of some of the precipitation into early October and to have some time to emerge prior to the first fall frosts. Agrible’s Morning Farm Report® software can help you plan field by field when rains will return and when soil conditions will be fit for planting equipment using the Tractor Time logistics tool. We wish everyone a safe and successful harvest, and where the situation allows, the ability to try planting some cover crops this fall as the continuation of established practices or as a trial on a small area to evaluate their use.