How Cover Crops Shield Soils In Winter
For most producers, harvesting corn silage is either checked off the “to-do” list or it is nearly complete. However, water-logged fields, shorter growing degree days and an early frost made the 2019 corn silage harvest season one of the most challenging years on record.
Despite what proved to be wearisome season, farmers are back in the fields once again planting cover crops to help protect their soil from the unknown weather elements the 2020 planting season will likely have in store.
According to a recent William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Farm Report, establishing a cover crop after corn harvest could help provide valuable protection for the soil from the erosive forces of rain. Additionally, the presence of vegetation will slow the velocity of surface runoff and protects nutrient rich manure from being washed away.
“The majority of nutrient losses occurs during the nongrowing season, loosely defined as November through April,” says Laura Klaiber, a nutrient management researcher for the Miner Institute, in the report. “If you have highly erodible land that will be fallow over winter and/or apply manure in the fall following corn harvest, planting a cover crop can help keep those nutrients in the field for the following growing season.”
But when should cover crop seed go in the ground? And what variety should be planted? While there are a wide variety of answers, Klaiber offers this suggestion:
“The biggest challenge to successfully incorporating cover crops into your rotation is getting them planted early enough in the fall to allow for enough growth to be able to reap the benefits of ground cover and nutrient sequestration,” Klaiber says. “If you can get a cover crop in by mid-September, triticale is a high-quality forage that could be harvested in the spring before planting corn. If you find yourself planting later than that, cereal rye (AKA winter rye) is the hardiest option.”