NDSU Extension Service - Burke County

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Cover Crops

Cover Crops

County Agent News
Dan Folske
October 5, 2014

Cover Crops

     Interest in cover crops continues to grow but there seems to be as much confusion about them as there are hard facts, research, and documentation.

     What is a cover crop? A cover crop is any crop or mixture of crops planted to grow when primary cash crops are not being grown. Most cover crops in North Dakota are currently seeded immediately after harvesting of a spring planted crop or a winter annual crop like winter wheat. There is also extensive use of cover crops in some areas on “PP” acres or land on which a spring crop was not able to be planted due to excessive moisture. Cover crops on these acres can help draw down the water table to increase the likelihood of being able to plant a fall seeded crop or a spring crop next year. Having a “cover crop” growing can also help maintain a healthy soil which producers and researchers now realize includes a variety of living organisms including insects, fungi, and bacteria.

     Does a cover crop need to have a certain mix of crop species? No, although they usually have several. The choices of single species or multiple species, and which species, are based on a wide variety of factors. One important factor is crop insurance. If you only plant one species like wheat, barley or soybeans it may be considered a crop intended for harvest even if planted outside the normal planting window and can affect your insurance. Multiple crops species are often planted to encourage the widest range of benefits to soil organisms or to help with specific soil issues. Salt tolerant species may be included for best establishment and growth in saline areas. Crops with deep taproots may be selected for breaking up compacted soil layers or recycling nitrogen and other crop nutrients which have moved below the root zone of normal crops.

     Next week I will talk about additional uses of cover crops and species selections.

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