Now is the time to plan for cover crops

Cover crops can be beneficial to growers and the land, but selecting the correct cover crop can be a big decision.

Choosing the right cover crop for your cropping system is just as important as selecting which variety of corn or soybeans to plant. Cover crop species have different attributes as well as challenges. The key to good farm planning is to know what those are and to plan according to your specific farm management strategy. There are three questions that a farmer needs to answer to put together a farm plan that includes cover crops.

  1. What benefits would I like to see from a cover crop?
  2. What cover crop species will work in my farming system?
  3. How do I manage the cover crop?

Cover crops offer a wide variety of benefits. Farmers need to determine what benefits they would like the cover crop to address. Once he/she has determined what their needs are, the needs should be prioritize. By ranking the desired attribute, either a cover crop species or a mixture of different species, cocktail mixes, can be chosen. Due to seed sourcing it may be difficult for a farm to obtain certain seed it is advisable that the farm have more than one cover crop option.

Once you have determined what species you would like to plant, you will need to do some research on that cover crop. A species may have fit into your objectives for cover, but because of your farming system they may not work. In Michigan, our climate plays a large role on what we can grow. Putting a cover in too late in the season can result in a failure. There are also some differences within varieties. Some maybe better at a trait than others. There are good cover crops that have a negative effect on some cash crops.

You have determined what you are going to plant but now the question is how you are going to manage the crop. Some species grow better when nitrogen is applied while others don’t need any help. The cover can be seeded, broadcasted or even aerial applied. Your seeding method will also determine how much seed you will need. Another concern is crop termination. Do you want the crop winter killed, or do you have the means for chemical termination. You also want to make sure that the cover crop will not cause any pest problems in your farming system.

When you answer these questions, you should be able to put together a good farm plan that includes cover crop. To help farmers determine their cover crop options Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has educators designated to help growers. Paul Gross, 989-772-0911 ext. 302 and Christina Curell, 231-745-2732. There will also be cover crop meetings held throughout the state that will help farms come up with a farm specific plan. To see when the cover crop meeting closest to you will be held visit MSU Extension’s Isabella County website or Lake County website. For cover crop information you can also go to the Midwest Cover Crop Council website.

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