Annual Cover Crop Options
Feature article from the Central Grasslands Forum - Fall 2014 edition
Guojie Wang, Forage Agronomist, CGREC Matthew Danzl, Forage Agronomy Research Specialist, CGREC
Cover crops are growing in popularity among farmers and ranchers in North Dakota due to their fast establishment and contributions to soil health and biodiversity. Cover crops may be grazed in late fall to early winter to extend the grazing season, thereby reducing livestock feeding costs. They can also be baled or used as silage, or as a green manure soil amendment.
A set of research projects at the CGREC studies several cover crop options that can be integrated into a farm and ranch system:
- A full-season cover crop can be used as a rotational crop or a forage base for livestock production. We are evaluating four groups of annual forage species: brassicas, small grains, legumes and warm-season grasses. These crops are seeded in spring (mid-May to mid-June).
- A late-season cover crop can be seeded in prevented-planting areas caused by wet and cold soils. This can boost forage production and late-season grazing. Annuals are planted in summer (mid-July to mid-August) and their growth extends into late fall.
- Double crops, or two crops in the same season, are difficult in North Dakota due to the short growing season and limited soil water. However, evaluating double-cropping systems with modifications is worthwhile. A spring cereal may be seeded in mid-May and harvested for forage in early July. An annual cover crop can then be seeded into the stubble for production into late fall.
Cover crops can be used in many combinations within cropping systems. These are some of the many options available to livestock producers to increase forage production. For more information, see our 2013 Annual Report and our upcoming 2014 Annual Report.