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All Kinds of Cover Crops Displayed at Farm Progress Show

All Kinds of Cover Crops Displayed at Farm Progress Show

Should you use one, two or a whole handful of species in your cover crop mix?

If you had never seen mustard growing in a cover crop plot, you could have seen it at the 2013 Farm progress Show. If you want to drive over there to see it you still could – the plots were retained for observation.

You could see about 20 examples of cover crops, either grown individually or in mixtures. The last plot had a mixture of all kinds of cover crops in it. It appeared they dumped out all the seed they had left and seeded it in the last plot. Either that or you might say they threw everything but the kitchen sink into the mixture!

Duke's mixture: It might seem like the person grabbed every bag with seed in it and mixed them together for this last plot. Actually, Holscher says, there is a reason for including each species in this seeding.

Mike Plumer, who farms and runs a consulting business, largely advising farmers about cover crops, helped decide which mixtures to include in the plot. The plots were seeded after wheat, then irrigated so that farmers could get a feel for what the real cover crop looked like.

 The seeding time for most of these crops is actually now and in the next two weeks for some, and a bit later for crops like rye. Cereal rye is generally the latest cover crop you can successfully plant in the fall and still expect to get overwintering with a decent stand the next spring. It can be sown up into early November, although sowing it earlier is better if possible.

Lisa Holscher, a coordinator with the Hub portion of the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative special grant, says that there are reasons for including various cover crops in different situations. Even the plot with a large number of crops mixed together could have a purpose, she says.

Part of the process of converting to using cover crops is to figure out what you want the cover crops to do for your fields, and for you, Holscher says. Do you want to capture leftover nitrogen from the crop year, or do you want a crop that will produce nitrogen in the spring? Your answers will help determine which choice is best for you.

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