Cover crop

It’s a little too early to give a final report on how cover crops fared over the winter, said Dustin Paulson.

The salesman for Welter Seed and Honey Co. in Oslow, Iowa, said he has heard reports of some winter kill from around Fairfield in southeast Iowa, but as the weather warms up, this will become more obvious.

“In the coming weeks we will have a better handle on winter kill,” Paulsen said. “My initial thoughts are I don’t expect any winter kill in rye (or) triticale, but possibly winter wheat or barley. Depends on how much ice sat on stands without snow cover.”

This comes after a year when fewer cover crops were applied going into the winter. Weather played a major factor in cover crop planting delays, and Paulsen said that could lead to a possible crunch this spring.

“This has put more pressure on our spring small grains supply,” he said. “We will have plenty available, but top choices of varieties may not be there.”

Getting the right amount of seed out to customers last fall was not an issue. In fact, Paulsen said there were more seed returns than normal, and in some cases seed wasn’t even picked up to be planted.

Missouri was also hit by the wet fall conditions, which prevented some normal cover crop planting. That led to more aerial applications of cover crops, University of Missouri agronomist Rob Myers said.

For those who were able to get planted, Myers said he’s seen some good results so far in March.

“I’ve seen a number of cover crop fields of cereal rye that are looking good coming out of the winter,” Myers said. “My own crimson clover planting from last fall looks pretty good so far this spring, but if people had legumes or brassicas planted later than optimum, there could be winter survival issues in some cases.”

He said other crops, like triticale or winter wheat, seemed to do pretty well through the winter in Missouri.

As planting for the 2020 growing season rapidly approaches, Myers said last year showed the benefits of planting corn or soybeans into a field before cover crop termination. With soil moisture being so high last year and more wet conditions expected again this year, he said leaving those cover crops in can help draw down some of the moisture, allowing for earlier planting.

“Planting green can also provide other benefits like better weed control and increased overall cover crop growth, which can help with increasing soil organic matter,” Myers said. “However, in a dry spring, it’s better to terminate the cover crops earlier so that the soil doesn’t get too dried out.”

Paulsen said there are many different approaches farmers can take when looking at cover crops. Some are looking for it to be harvested as forage, while others are using them mainly for soil health.

Cereal rye is among the most popular variety of cover crop used in Iowa due to its hardiness through the winter and flexibility in planting dates and usage. It can make good forage for those who want it, he said.

He also said radishes have entered into the conversation, but they need to be planted early “to get any good out of them.”

“I think it’s most important to tailor the species used to what fits best in the operation and timeliness of getting it in,” he said. “It all comes back to timing. Aerial applications have been very hit or miss in our area the past few years.”