Consider incorporating cover crops following early harvested sugarbeets

Sugarbeets harvested in August will allow growers to establish cover crops as a soil-health builder and nematode-trap crop.

The sugarbeet crop in the Michigan Sugar Company growing area currently looks good. Due to early planting this spring along with good emergence and growing conditions, this year has the potential to be one of the largest crops produced. Many fields were canopied by June 20, allowing for maximum sunlight interception and conversion to sugar. If growing conditions (rainfall) are near normal, harvest operations will begin as early as August 15. This can allow for the potential of alternative crop rotations or cover crops following beet harvest.

Sugarbeets that are harvested in August or September may allow for the planting of winter wheat. Growers that harvested sugarbeets under dry conditions and did not destroy the soil structure from compaction have grown excellent wheat crops. This, coupled with currently historic high wheat prices, may make this option attractive. Wheat will also allow frost seeding of red clover the next year for additional soil benefits.

When looking at improving soil health, it has long been known that increasing the length of time you have actively growing roots is very beneficial. Actively growing roots increase microbial activity, which is a key ingredient to soil health. Incorporating cover crops into crop rotations has a multitude of benefits including reducing soil erosion, increasing organic matter and improving soil structure. This can translate into better drainage, less disease problems and improved yield. Cover crops established after early harvested beets can also take advantage of residual nutrients.

Sugarbeets normally do not allow for the establishment of cover crops because of late harvest in October. Again, with the potential of a large sugarbeet crop, some areas could begin harvest as early as August 15. This will allow the option of establishment of cover crops such as oil seed radish, sorghum-sudangrass and clover in the second half of August. Some oil seed radish varieties, such as Defender, are known as a sugarbeet cyst nematode trap crop and roots very deeply to help penetrate compaction zones. Be careful planting other varieties of radishes as many increase sugarbeet cyst nematode populations. Sorghum-Sudangrass is known as a soil organic builder that can loosen soil. Berseem and crimson clovers are excellent legumes that additionally can serve as a nitrogen source for crops in rotation.

Other options can include cereal grains such as oats, wheat and cereal rye. They can be established in late August and September and provide living covers and can be tilled in late fall or killed in the spring before planting. Cover crops established after early harvested beets can take advantage of residual nutrients.

For additional information regarding cover crops, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), MSU Extension educator and Lake Huron Watershed coordinator for the Great Lakes Cover Crop Initiative, at 989-560-1371. You can also visit the Midwest Cover Crop Council website.

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