Will a living mulch work for your farm?

Living mulches can be a great alternative for crops that use mulches.

Living mulches have the advantage of providing erosion production, nutrient cycling and weed control throughout the year. Legumes have the added benefit of providing nitrogen during the growing season.

The key to successfully integrating living mulch into a cropping system is proper management. Growers must actively manage the mulch so it does not become a pest problem. Correct plant selection is paramount to ensure objectives are met and any negative effect of using living mulch is addressed and dealt with. Managers need to monitor soil moisture to ensure that adequate water is available for both the crop and the mulch. Tillage or chemical applications need to be utilized if the mulch poses a risk to crop yields. Mowing may also need to be done periodically to ensure active growth and to acquire maximum biomass production.       

Common cover crop species can be used as living mulches. Grasses and legumes can be used in a monoculture planting or they can be used in a mix. Michigan State University Extension Cover Crop Team will be partnering with vegetable growers establishing demonstration sites in several locations throughout the state. One of the legumes that will be showcased is subterranean clover. Subterranean clover is not commonly used in Michigan, but it has some qualities that make it a viable choice for living mulches. For more information on using cover crop species for a living mulch, contact Christina Curell, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or Paul Gross, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).   

If you would like to learn more about cover crops, the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) is holding its annual business meeting followed by a one day conference this year in Michigan. The MCCC conference will be held on March 15, 2017, at the Crowne Plaza, 5700 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, Mich. The MCCC business meeting will precede the conference on March 14. This event is an opportunity for farmers, researchers, educators, agency personnel, NGOs and agribusiness to learn from one another about the latest information in successful cover cropping. The meeting and conference is being hosted by Michigan State University Extension. The theme of this year’s conference is Making Cover Crops Work - Experiences from the Field. In addition to joint sessions on cover crop termination and interseeding of cover crops, three concurrent sessions will feature cover crop use in field crop, vegetable crop and forage and grazing systems. CCA and RUP credits are pending. Exhibitors providing cover crop and other Ag-related services will be present. Register online.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council’s goal is to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest, to improve ecological, economic and social sustainability. States and provinces represented in the MCCC are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Ontario, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  

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