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Serving: WI
field of cover crops
COVER CROP: There is still time to plant a cover crop on prevented plant acres to shore up forage supplies and control weeds, according to George Koepp, Extension agriculture agent in Columbia County, Wis.

Make most of prevented plant acres

Increase forage supplies and control weeds with cover crops.

George Koepp, Columbia County Extension agriculture agent, advises Wisconsin farmers with prevented plant acres to contact their crop insurance agent before planting and harvesting or grazing those acres to make sure they are not violating any rules.

Koepp says farmers who have one or more fields that didn’t get planted should look at their situation individually.

“Are you just trying to protect the soil, or are you short on forages?” he asks. “A lot of farmers have a field or two — or in some cases, maybe more — that didn’t get planted this spring because it was too wet. Realize some farmers, especially livestock and dairy farmers, don’t have crop insurance, so they don’t have to follow the rules that those with crop insurance need to follow.”

Leaving the land fallow is not a good plan, Koepp warns. “The soil needs roots to stay healthy and risks being overrun with weeds if you leave it fallow.

“Part of the challenge facing these farmers is they need to get something on that land,” he says. “Leaving it fallow is not the best option because the weeds take over, weeds go to seed, and next year you have a bigger problem. They need to cover that soil with a green, growing crop and control the weeds.”

Buy seed now

Koepp advises farmers who want to plant a cover crop on land that didn’t get planted this spring to decide what they will plant and purchase the seed as soon as possible.

“One of the main challenges is finding a seed source,” he explains. “Summer seed and cover crop seed supplies are being hit hard by higher-than-normal demand.”

Farmers should also keep the next crop in mind when choosing a cover crop, Koepp advises.

“If you are planning to plant corn next spring, cold-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing legumes can reduce next year’s nitrogen requirements, while grains like rye and triticale work well ahead of soybeans,” he says.

While farmers can still plant corn, Koepp says corn planted in August will look a lot different than corn planted in May or June.

“They can plant corn, but they have to be ready to harvest it when there’s a killing frost,” he says. “If we don’t get a frost until mid-October or later, they can still harvest it for corn silage. But they are going to have a short window after we get a frost to chop it.

“In normal years, we just wait for corn silage to dry down to the moisture level we want to harvest it. With prevented planting acres, we are relying on Mother Nature to dry it down for us, and when it reaches the optimum moisture level, it dries down fast. Corn planted in early August will be a grass. It won’t have any ears.”

Koepp says winter rye is a good option for a cover crop. “If they are planting winter rye, they should plant it between the end of August and early October,” he says. “They could plant spring barley, rye or oats. They can all be used as forages.”

Farmers can also plant sorghum-sudangrass. “But you have to be careful to harvest it before the first killing frost,” Koepp says. “It has to be chopped before the first frost so that livestock are not poisoned by prussic acid.”

Dairy and beef farmers looking to shore up forage inventories can plant winter rye after harvesting corn silage this fall and chop ryelage next spring before planting soybeans or corn.

Koepp cautions grain farmers who are planning to grow forage crops to sell to dairy and livestock farmers to do their homework before spending money to plant a cover crop to sell for feed.

“They need to make sure they have a market for the crop, or you may be growing something that is not needed or wanted,” Koepp says.

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