Alan Dean of Dean Farms, Bryan, Ohio, believes cover crops are the future of farming. He and his brother sell seed and operate a custom application business with a high-clearance rig, starting near Topek, Ind., and winding up near Toledo, Ohio. Dean invited visitors to a recent field day at Remke Farms near Harlan, Ind., to check out more than a dozen potential cover crop varieties planted in a plot.
“Some had to be mowed off because weeds were heavy, but you can get a feel for what most of them look like,” he says. There are definitely differences, and there are different reasons to grow different crops, he adds.
Many people start out with one or two species, and then add more to the mixture as they try to accomplish more through cover crops.
Some cover crops scavenge nutrients, including nitrogen; others, like the vetches and crimson clover, produce nitrogen if allowed to grow long enough in the spring. Still others are good at protecting the soil from erosion.
Mike Werling, Decatur, Ind., believes in a diversity of cover crops. He believes that diversity helps add diversity in soil health by enhancing soil microbial action.
Werling has planted a 14-way mix in the past, and likely will again. “That goes after wheat, usually where I can seed relatively early,” he says. “Some species need to be seeded in our areas by Sept. 15, if not earlier. Unless you’re interseeding or seeding before harvest, it can be difficult to hit those target dates. I raise oats, and I will come back with my mixture into oat stubble, which includes species that need an early planting date,” he says.
Werling has a purpose for including each species in his mix. He believes the expense is still cost-effective for what he hopes to reap in benefits from the various plants in the mix.
Mixes aren’t for the beginner, he notes. However, as people become experienced with annual ryegrass, cereal rye, and perhaps oats and radishes, they can begin to blend in other species that are believed to have benefits.
Take a virtual tour of some cover crops in the Remke Farms plot this year by paging through the slideshow of photos below. Also be sure to check out the first part of this virtual tour. Descriptions were taken from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, ID-433. See if any of these plants have characteristics that might add value on your farm.