Soil Health Minute: A twist to cover crops on prevented planting fields
It never fails that once a plan comes together that there's a new twist. After a few weeks of talking about cover crop options on prevented planting acres that could not be hayed or grazed until Nov. 1, the date changed to Sept. 1. This change in date is excellent news and certainly opens up more options for farmers.
With this new date in mind, we can now talk about mixes that produce high quality material for haying or grazing. This can provide some additional revenue without affecting prevented planting payments if utilized after Sept. 1. First, we continue to recommend that you have a conversation with your insurance provider to share your plan for the prevented planting acres and keep them in the loop.
Next, consider when you will be seeding the cover crop to be hayed or grazed. If you plan to seed cover crops in July, including a warm season grass (for example, millet or sorghum-sudangrass) is a good idea to get biomass and coverage for competition with weeds. You can also include a cool season grass (for example, oats or barley) in that mix that will establish and then perform this fall. By using grasses, you will have an option to hay or graze and will still have management options for broadleaf weed control. But be sure to double check herbicide applications that are allowable for haying or grazing. If haying, do not include sorghum or sorghum-sudangrass in the mix. You'll be up against wet material that could result in moldy bales. Stick with millet if you can. If grazing, include less than 2 pounds per acre sorghum or sorghum-sudangrass to avoid excessive competition.
If you plan to seed the cover crop in August, then you may be able to stick with cool seasons like oats or barley and add a cereal rye component to the mix. When we follow small grain harvest with a cover crop, we recommend seeding by Aug. 15 to get decent biomass. Similar guidelines would apply to this prevented planting situation also. If the cover crop is going to be grazed, then consider including a broadleaf component, like radish and/or pasja turnip.
If the mix will not be hayed or grazed, then follow the original plan you had before the date changed for haying or grazing. Be sure to double check herbicide residual in the establishment of the cover crop and also make sure you pick your weed control plan first and then pick your cover crops.
One final tip: if you haven't ordered your cover crop seed yet, you need to get that done as soon as possible. Seed is in short supply and this can lead to unneeded and unwanted stress with adjusting mixes. If you have to adjust your mix slightly, it's OK, just go with it and get the seed to your shop so you can put it in the ground.
Thanks to North Dakota State University's Marisol Berti, Dave Franzen and Joe Ikley along with insurance providers, seed companies and many farmers who have contributed to these recommendations. We are all figuring this out together.