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Forage Radish, Annual Ryegrass Lead Cover Crop Race

Forage Radish, Annual Ryegrass Lead Cover Crop Race
The cover crop trend is catching on among Indiana farmers, despite some setbacks

Some 5,000 acres seeded in the Evansville area by aerial seeding last fall didn't come up. These cover crops didn't get enough moisture to get them off to a good start. Even though there have been failures like this before, the dealer who works with these farmers expects most will try again. When cover crops work, people like them and see the benefits. It keeps them coming back.

Phil Carter, Terre Haute, told an audience of soil conservation farmers last summer that he tries different cover crops, but he prefers to drill them. Depending on which ones he's planting and moisture conditions, that might have been a smart move this last fall.

Related: 10 Tips for First-Time Cover Crop Success

Control issues: Rye can be planted late, and many farmers are using it as a cover crop. The trick with rye, experts say, is bringing it down early in the spring. This rye is taller than most people would prefer. It may require planting through it, then burning it down.

Specialists like Hans Kok of the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative say that some cover crops, like annual ryegrass and radishes, need to go on earlier, sometimes earlier than the crop comes out of the field. That's why people have tried different methods of seeding to get the cover crop into standing fields of either corn or soybeans.

Of all the cover crops, rye can be planted latest and still produce healthy growth next spring, he notes. If you're going to drill and it gets late, rye is probably a good option for a cover crop, he says.

More farmers are trying cover crops – but which ones are the most popular?

A recent survey of Indiana Master farmers found out that a surprising number of farmers have apparently tried cover crops on at least part of their farm over the past couple of years. Nearly half of the 150 Master Farmers still farming responded to the survey. An astounding 72% say they have planted cover crops within the past two years. Is it a fad or a trend? Well, 70% planted cover crops last fall.

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The respondents were asked which cover crops they had tried. Forage radish actually ranked first, followed closely by annual ryegrass. Those are two that are promoted heavily.

The knock on annual ryegrass is it can be tough to kill in the spring, although those who have grown it for a while say that if you pay attention and don't cut corners, it's not that hard to kill. Forage radishes root deep, and are impressing people with lots of growth in the fall. They don't overwinter, so there's nothing to burn down next spring.

Wheat was actually next, followed closely by rye. Purists don't like wheat as a cover crop, partly because you can get into issue of planting it before the fly-free date for normal wheat, but many farmers still consider it an option.

Related: How Cover Crops Boost Crop Yields, Even In Dry Years

Crimson clover, turnips and oats also made the list. Many are finding that since oats don't overwinter, it can provide fall cover and then not be a problem for planting into the next spring. Often it is mixed with another cover crop.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the answers to: How did you seed it? While high-clearance rigs and different ways to adopt them to seed into standing crops have been getting attention from the innovators, only one respondent said that was how he was seeding cover crops. The most popular choice was a three-way tie between aerial seeding, broadcasting the seed after harvest and drilling the cover crop after harvest.

Thinking about a cover crop? Start with developing a plan. Download the Cover Crops: Best Management Practices white paper today.

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