Planting cover crops can make life easier

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Farmers in Ohio must realize a number of facts. Among those are:

• The weather is going to be different from one growing season to the next, but never ideal.

• There will be a variety of crop pests and the pest remedy options will have drawbacks.

• Soils will vary greatly, but soil organic matter is always lower than desired.

• Soil erosion prevention is a year-long, every year challenge.

• Soil fertility nutrients can easily leave the field, if you don’t take measures to prevent it.

• Forages are almost always in short supply and expensive to replace.

Solution

I’m not about to try to outwit Mother Nature and her endless arsenal of pests, but I have an idea on the other issues noted — plant cover crops.I know you read about cover crops every day, and may be tired of hearing about them. And I know cover crops are not magic solutions to all Ohio farm problems. But they have been proven to reduce erosion and hold those valuable (and potentially polluting) fertilizer nutrients in place for future crops. And cover crops always add to soil organic matter levels.

If you have harvested barley, wheat or oats fields, now is the time to seed those to oats for fall cover and possibly some high quality forage for fall grazing or “wet-harvest.”Options. Cereal grain rye, annual ryegrass, triticale and barley are cover crops that will protect your fields this fall and winter and then regrow in the spring for an early forage harvest opportunity.

There are several legumes that can be seeded right now that will fix nitrogen, to be available for next year’s corn crop.

If you do nothing, those harvested wheat or oats fields will green-up with a flush of late ragweed and foxtail to provide “cover,” but the quality is less than ideal.

Beyond seeding those wheat and oats fields to cover crops, plan now for seeding cover crops on corn silage and soybean acres. If you wait to plan until the crops are harvested, chances are higher that it won’t happen.

Aerial

The ideal time to seed a cover crop into corn or soybeans is before harvest, but after the crop is physiologically mature. Generally, that means “aircraft seeding.” If you are considering that option, you need to contact your aerial seeding company as soon as possible.

A “Hi-Boy” seeder may be another option, if you can find one in your area. For most corn silage sites, cover crops can be drilled as soon as the corn is harvested.Your cover crop species options are more limited, but drilling after corn silage harvest can achieve excellent results.

Seeding dates

NRCS has an approved seeding dates of Sept. 15 for oats, radish, ryegrass and legumes; Oct. 10 for wheat; and Nov. 1 for rye.Many counties in eastern and southeast Ohio are participating in a cover crop program sponsored by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. That program intends to fund 22,000 acres of cover crops in 16 counties.

While the deadline for this program sign up has passed, your county Soil and Water Conservation District office can provide more information about cover crops, and your seed dealer can talk to you about seed options and availability.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council has a good website with a cover crop decision making tool at www.mccc.msu.edu/selectorINTRO.html.

About the Author

Michelle Wood is the program administrator for the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of Mount Union College with a degree in communications, and has been involved in natural resources and agriculture throughout her career. More Stories by Michelle Wood

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