If you’re on Twitter, you’ve likely seen a lot of buzz around wide-row corn (44-inch or 60-inch) with cover crops seeded between rows. The goal is to space the corn rows out to provide more light for the cover crops to establish and put on some biomass for grazing, attract pollinators or to add diversity to the system.

This year, several farmers are trying this approach in our area. North Dakota State University will also be conducting studies on this approach at the Carrington Research Extension Center (lead: Mike Ostlie), the Oakes Irrigation site (lead: Kelly Cooper) and a select number of on-farm sites (lead: Abbey Wick and Bryce Andersen).

To be honest, we don’t have data-driven recommendations for this approach of planting the same population of corn in wider rows or which cover crops to include for our region. But for those of you curious about it or have a few acres you’re trying this on, we want to provide some guidance on the cover crops that could be used.

First, if you have wide-row corn planted, I hope you have a good herbicide and fertility plan. Two of the worst things that could happen is having an open canopy, holes in your herbicide program and a poor establishment of cover crops that leads to a flush of weeds or issues with your fertility program that doesn’t maximize corn yield. Make sure you have both of those things down before trying this approach.

Cover crops interseeded into 60” corn at the Oakes Demonstration Site (Kelly Cooper, North Dakota State University)
Cover crops interseeded into 60” corn at the Oakes Demonstration Site (Kelly Cooper, North Dakota State University)
Next, picking the cover crops you plan to seed between the corn rows can be overwhelming. We are trying a few mixes on-farm based on specific goals we’ve determined for each farm. Here are the mixes we are trying. DISCLAIMER: we have no idea how these mixes will work, this is our best guess and what we will be evaluating.

Goal: Flowering cover crops throughout the season to attract pollinators.

Mix: Flax (2 pounds per acre), faba bean (7 pounds per acre), oats (15 pounds per acre), winter pea (5 pounds per acre), crimson clover (1 pound per acre), buckwheat (2 pounds per acre), and phacelia (2 pounds per acre).

Goal: Cover crops that will overwinter.

Mix: Cereal rye (15 pounds per acre), red clover (1 pound per acre), vernal alfalfa (2 pounds per acre).

Goal: Cover crops that will overwinter PLUS warm seasons for coverage/competition.

Mix: Sorghum (2 pounds per acre), forage foxtail millet (3 pounds per acre), cereal rye (5 pounds per acre), red clover (1 pound per acre), vernal alfalfa (2 pounds per acre).

Goal: High quality grazing mix.

Mix: Oats (15 pounds per acre), turnip (1 pound per acre), winfred hybrid (1.5 pounds per acre), forage pea (5 pounds per acre), faba bean (5 pounds per acre), swede (1.5 pounds per acre), cereal rye (5 pounds per acre).

Goal: Cost-effective grazing mix that is likely lower quality.

Mix: Oats (15 pounds per acre), purple top turnip (1.5 pounds per acre), field peat (5 pounds per acre), cereal rye (5 pounds per acre).

I don’t usually share detailed information like this until we know how it will work, but I also want to provide some guidance for those of you who are trying this approach and are maybe a little stuck on what you want to seed between the rows. Some guidance (even if we haven’t tested it yet) may be better than no guidance in this case.

If you are trying wide-row corn with cover crops on your farm, please go to NDSU.edu/soilhealth and download a datasheet to keep track of what you are trying. Then send us a copy of that datasheet at the end of the season so that we can all learn from the approaches being tried. We’ll keep you posted as to what we learn about this approach!

Abbey Wick is an Extension soil health specialist at North Dakota State University.