Plan early to purchase seed for your cover crop program

Now is the time to purchase cover crop seed. Be prepared and don’t delay, or you may be stuck with higher prices or no seed.

Several articles have been written recently about planting cover crops after short-season crops such as wheat, oats, green beans and cucumbers. One way to prepare is to use the new cover crops decision tool. You can also work with MSU Extension educators, Natural Resource Conservation Service, district conservationists or consultants to help make choices for cover crops.

The benefits of cover crops are well known. They include erosion protection, weed fighting, nitrogen scavenging or nitrogen production, soil building and improving soil quality. To get the maximum benefit from cover crops, they need to become part of your crop rotation, an integral part of your cropping system. Whether you farm with just corn, soybeans and wheat, or have a more diverse rotation with either horticultural crops or livestock and manure, there are opportunities to include cover crops in your production system.

There are a number of possible planting niches for most farm operations. Four to six weeks of growth is usually the minimum required to get enough growth to justify expense. Some growing niches will depend upon the goal you have for the cover crop. Late planting of a cover crop will provide erosion protection, even though there may be limited growth.

Once you make your choices, it is important to purchase seed. I talked to a farmer who raises cover crop seed and he said his supplies dwindle rapidly following wheat harvest. So, now is the time to purchase seed. I’ve seen it time and again where farmers delay, and then seed isn’t available or prices increase.

If you plan to seed winter annual cover crops after soybean or corn harvest, remember they will be harvested in July or August, so it doesn’t hurt to contract wheat, oats or cereal rye now as well. Over the past few seasons, cereal rye seed has been in high demand, so plan and purchase early.

Like many things, the key is to make a plan. Decide where the cover crops will fit in the rotation and be ready for the planting opportunity when it comes. For many successful cover crop users, this means keeping a spreader or drill full of the cover crop seed as the main crop is harvested. Being ready to plant the cover crop makes it easier to get the job done in a timely fashion.

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