Channel Field Check Up


   Considering cover crops this fall? Cash crops will be harvested soon, leaving the soil surface uncovered for the next six months. To continue capturing sunlight and preserve precious topsoil, consider seeding a cover crop this fall. Begin making your cover crop plan now to ensure it is in place as soon as the cash crop is removed and at least four weeks before frost to achieve adequate growth. Cover crop attributes can include:
   Reduced soil erosion
   Soils are susceptible to erosion and loss of phosphorous when they lack cover from crop canopy and residues. Cover crop growth supplements corn or soybean residue and offers erosion control for a longer period. Decaying cover crops also increase soil organic matter, reducing soil erosion potential.
   Improved surface water quality
   Legumes, such as hairy vetch and crimson clover, have the ability to act as an N source (nitrogen) for the following cash crop. Legumes convert N gas from the air into plant-available N.
   Cover crops that are N scavengers can help reduce the amount of N available for leaching into ground water. N scavengers can take up and store excess N (otherwise unavailable), which can be released closer to when the cash crop can use it. Fibrous root systems, such as annual ryegrass, cereal rye, various brassica species, and oats are great N scavengers.
   Weed control
   Cover crops can compete with weeds for light, nutrients and moisture. Weed control and reduction of soil erosion are aided by quick growth of cover crops. A good stand of cover crops or their residue can effectively suppress winter annual weeds.
   Cover crop interseeded with cash crop
   Certain species of cover crops can make good companion crops and be established while the current field cash crop is still standing at the end of the season. Interseeded cover crops should be evaluated considering pest and agronomic factors that could affect growth of cash crops.
   Farmers in this region would benefit most from cover crops that break through heavy clay soils to reduce compaction and increase water infiltration and root penetration. First-time cover crop users should start small and simple, i.e., winter-killed cover crop such as oats or radish on 20 to 40 acres and grow more each year. Selecting the top one to three things you want to accomplish by using cover crops will aid in your selection.
   Treat your cover crop decision as serious as your cash crops and plan ahead. Over the previous 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in growing cover crops. Among other reasons, growers adopt cover crops because the use is linked with soil and water conservation and soil health, all important factors in sustainable productivity. ∆
   KAYLISSA HALTER: Agronomist, Channel
MidAmerica Farm Publications, Inc
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