NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Cover Crop Options

cover crops

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources

Excessive rainfall and regional local flooding have resulted in many fields that have not been planted with the intended crop. Producers may want to explore the benefits of planting a cover crop. Some cover crops have the ability to fix nitrogen. Other potential benefits of a cover crop include: build organic matter, suppress weeds, reduce water and wind erosion, utilize some of the excess moisture and/or improve soil quality during the remainder of the growing season. From a biological standpoint it is important to have green vegetation growing on fields. These different cover crop benefits may help increase the yield potential of subsequent main crops. 

The cover crop used will depend greatly on the main objective. If nitrogen fixation is the main factor a legume needs to be used. The seed cost of legumes tends to be a little higher than a non-legume small grain.

In areas where the salt concentration in the top soil is relatively high producers will want to consider crops with more tolerance to salinity. For instance, barley would be more tolerant to salt when compared to some of the legume crops. Salt tolerant alfalfa or grass species might also be considered. However, if the salt concentration is too high even the so called salt tolerant crops may not establish.

If fertilizer for the main crop was already applied a brassica or grass (small grain), or brassica and grass mix can be utilized. These crops can scavenge residual N or pre-plant applied nutrients from the soil. When the cover crop is incorporated into the soil at the end of the season some of the nutrients will be available for the subsequent main crop.

Cover crop selection and management should focus on maximizing both above and below-ground biomass and encouraging nutrient cycling.  Cover crop selection can include a “cocktail mixture” of various crops and may include turnips, radishes, sugar beets, sunflower, legumes, small grains, and sorghum or other grains. Drilling seed will provide better seed to soil contact than broadcast seeding followed by harrowing.

Source: Hans Kandel, Ph.D, NDSU Extension Agronomist

Phone: (701) 231-8135 Email: hans.kandel@ndsu.edu

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