Cover crop ideas for prevented planting ground

Think about different options for the ground that won't get planted into cash crops this year.

2019 corn harvested in June 2020 will likely be prevented planting. (Abbey Wick, Special to Agweek)

We’ve been having online Café Talks about prevented planting and use of cover crops, and I’ve been posting some “tips” on Twitter to help with making decisions on cover crop mixes. I thought I’d share that information here.

First, we’ve had great turnout at the online Café Talks which happen Wednesday from 7:30 to 9 a.m. through the end of June. Everyone from farmers, consultants, seed companies and outreach organizations have joined the calls. This is important because then everyone can share ideas from their experience and also be on the same page with recommendations moving forward. Information on topics that come up during the Café Talks and also recordings of the meetings are being posted online at . There is a Prevented Planting tab where we are constantly adding information.

This week, we talked about options for cover crops after a June harvest of 2019 corn with anticipated crop in 2021 being soybeans. If you have livestock, then the options are limitless and focusing on including a cool season grass (oats or barley), warm season grass (sorghum), cool season legume (peas) and cool season broadleaf (radish) could work really well. Since we anticipate the grazing date to stay Nov. 1 and not get moved up like it did last year, trying to include species that will last into the fall and stay green are a good idea. This may include kale, Winfred hybrid or pasja turnip. The other species planted early, like sorghum, will be fairly low quality if grown full season and then grazed after Nov. 1, so it will be important to have some higher quality cover crops in the mix.

If grazing is not an option, then keeping the mix simple is key. Using a mix of grasses (oats, barley, cereal rye and maybe some sorghum or millet) could be a good approach.

One good thing we learned during the Café Talks is that seed is not in short supply this year, like it was last year. That means a couple things: You can get the mix you want and the concerns with weed seed contamination especially in millet is reduced (because we won’t be rushing the process to make seed available). This also gives more flexibility to order seed a little later once we all know a little more about how things are going to play out.


When picking a mix, it is important to also avoid cover crops that are hosts for diseases in your cash crop. This is especially important for things like clubroot and also soybean cyst nematode. If you have canola in rotation, avoid brassicas (turnips, radish, rapeseed) because they are clubroot hosts. If you have soybean cyst nematode issues, avoid chickling and hairy vetch, forage peas, turnips and white lupine since they are all hosts.

If you have questions about cover crops, please join the discussion in our on-line Café Talks. I learn something every time … that’s what happens when you get a lot of brains working on a topic and sharing ideas! Again, all this information is posted online at

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

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