Cover Crops in Crop Production Systems
The use of cover crops in cropping systems can provide several benefits. Cover crops can potentially provide water erosion control, wind erosion control, improve soil tilth, improve weed control, add nitrogen to the soil, capture nutrients, increase crop yields, and provide forage for livestock. Depending upon your purpose, there are several cover crops to choose from. A good choice to provide winter erosion control and spring forage for livestock is rye. Rye is very winter hardy, productive, and a high quality forage. It also has some allelopathic effects on some weeds, grasses, and crops; meaning it suppresses growth of these plants. This may cause problems on a corn or grain sorghum crop following rye. Rye also uses a substantial amount of water, which may deplete the soil profile under dry conditions. Other winter small grains that offer potential as cover crops include winter wheat, triticale, or barley. These cover crops all may add a significant quantity of organic matter to the soil or capture excess nitrogen. If you just want something to provide cover for erosion, oats planted after soybeans should meet this need without requiring tillage or burndown with a herbicide the following spring.
Legumes such as red clover, hairy vetch, or ladino clover can provide excellent cover and make a significant nitrogen contribution to the soil. Red and ladino clover also are excellent forages. Potential problems in crops following these cover crops include soil moisture depletion, insect problems, such as army worms and white grubs, and mice and voles eating seed. Cover crops can be overseeded into standing crops with an airplane or high clearance ground rig, or no-till drilled following a previous crop of soybeans, wheat, or corn silage. For more information on the use of cover crops in your crop production system contact your local Extension office.