Wide variety of cover crop mixes available to meet certain goals

by Sara Berges,
Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District

If you plan to plant cover crops after small grain or silage harvest, you have many options available for what to plant rather than just cereal rye. The longer growing season and warmer temperatures allow for a wide variety of species that provide many different benefits. The first step is to determine what goals you have for your cover crop. Many companies sell mixes that are designed to meet specific goals, but you can also create your own mix. 

For each cover crop goal below, several species options are listed. Species that are likely to winter kill are marked with (WK). If we have a mild winter, there is a chance some non-winter hardy species may survive and need to be chemically or mechanically terminated in the spring.

N scavenger: cereal rye, oats, winter wheat, forage turnip (WK), radish (WK)
N source: (should be seeded by August 10 for winter survival of winter hardy species) crimson clover (WK), red clover, field pea or Austrian winter pea (WK), hairy vetch
Weed fighter: cereal rye, oats (WK), winter wheat, radish (WK)
Erosion fighter: cereal rye, winter wheat, oats (WK), crimson clover (WK), field pea or Austrian winter pea (WK)
Soil builder: cereal rye, oats (WK), winter wheat, red clover, crimson clover (WK), hairy vetch, radish (WK), oriental mustard (WK)
Grazing: oats (WK), cereal rye, winter wheat, turnip (WK), red clover, crimson clover (WK), field pea or Austrian winter pea (WK)

There are also a few different websites available to help you determine what species fit your goals and what seeding rates to use. The Midwest Cover Crop Council has a Cover Crop Decision Tool that gives suggestions for species based on your location (county), cash crop estimated harvest date, and goals for the cover crop. Clicking on the species names will bring up information on planting. The Selector Tool is found on mccc.msu.edu.

Another site with a cover crop calculator is the Smart Mix calculator from Green Cover Seed. It can be found at smartmix.greencoverseed.com.

Other online calculators may be available, but these are a few to start with.

Those who have further questions about which cover crops will meet your goals and how to plant them may contact the NRCS office in Waukon by calling 563-568-2246 ext. 3, stop by 635 Ninth Street NW, or email sara.berges@ia.nacdnet.net.

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