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Cover Crops Still Have a Place Even in Tough Year

Cover Crops Still Have a Place Even in Tough Year

Field day illustrates how deep cover crops can send roots even in dry soil.

Some 60 people braved the afternoon sun to check out a variety of cover crops Roger Wenning planted in his plots on his farm east of Greensburg this spring. No, spring isn't the time to plant cover crops. But he has become known for experimenting with cover cps and hosting field days, and he wanted those who attended to get some feel for what the cover crop would look like when it was growing.

His entries ranged all the way from annual ryegrass to Austrian peas to crimson clover to a mixture of several cover crops thrown together. He also had a healthy cover of hairy vetch, even though he planted it in the spring.

Deep roots- Ron Althoff showed the crowd at a field day on Roger Wenning's farm that even though the soil was very dry, roots penetrated deep in these cover crop plots, all the way to the bottom of the pit.

Ron Althoff, BioTill, Effingham, Ill., a seed supplier, helped evaluate the plots. Wenning dug pits about 40 inches deep on some of the plots. Even though the covers were planted this spring, not in the late summer or fall as desired, he found roots growing to the bottom of the pit in some cases. In fact, given how dry the spring and early summer was, Althoff was surprised that even though the cover crops were still growing and weren't burnt off in late April or May as fall-seeded cover crops would have been, that roots were able to penetrate so deep.

As he walked through the various plots, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, both in  ease to grow and ability to kill in the spring at planting time, Althoff pointed out benefits for one cover crop vs. another.

"It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish," he says. "One may be best if you're just trying to loosen up compacted soil. But if you want to grow your own nitrogen for corn, then you need a legume, and you need to give it as much time in the spring to grow as possible."
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