Hot off the press for the hottest topic in conservation farming these days is the 'Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide,' a 137-page guide to everything you need to know about cover crops. Officially sponsored by the Midwest Cover Crops Council, it's prepared in the same format as the popular Purdue University Corn and Soybean Field Guide. You can get more information on the Guide and on cover crops at: www.mccc.msu.edu, or you can buy copies by visiting the Education Store operated online by Purdue. Find it at: www.the-education-store.com. Or you can call 888-EXT-INFO.
What's in the Cover Crops Guide? Just about everything, from tips on choosing cover crops to specific seeding dates for various groups of cover crops, to specific ratings of benefits for various cover crops that you might consider. For example, on page 11, there's a chart that provides the timing window for planting and potential benefits of several classes of cover crops. This chart makes it clear which cover crops could help scavenge N left over from the previous crop, and which are more suited to the traditional use of just protecting the soil from erosion during the winter months.
A whole variety of application methods are addressed, from planting with a drill to aerial seeding to applying seed with a manure slurry, with tips for each method. Some of the tips came from finding out what doesn't work.
Perhaps one of the best-read sections for the future starts on page 21, entitled 'Terminating cover crops.' How to burn down certain covers, particularly annual ryegrass, has prevented some people from trying cover crops. Those who have studied it intensely say it's a matter of management, getting it down to even what hours of the day to spray glyphosate to get the best uptake on annual ryegrass. BY the way, it's usually between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.