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Cover crop choice depends on fields

Looking across the 14 different cover crop plots on Tom Finkenbine’s farm, it’s natural to wonder which one’s the best. But no one crop will be best for every situation.

The demonstration plots are meant to give farmers a good look at a variety of cover crop options, explains Roger Bender, Ohio State University Extension ag agent in Shelby County. To pick the best option for their fields, farmers will need to determine what benefits are most important in each situation.

Key Points

• Shelby County demo plots show cover crop examples.

• Cover crops benefit soil quality and nutrient management.

• Recommendations vary depending on production goals.

For instance, Bender points out, legumes such as Austrian winter peas, cowpeas, chickling vetch and crimson clover can fix nitrogen in the soil for use by the following crop. Brassicas like oilseed radish can loosen compacted soil, stockpile excess nutrients and hold down winter annual weed pressure. Grasses such as tall fescue, sudangrass, rye and wheat build soil organic matter, reduce compaction and recycle excess nutrients.

Finkenbine, who is hosting the demonstration on his farm near Anna, is particularly interested in how the oilseed radishes perform in his cropping system. In the past, he’s used rye and wheat as cover crops.

“Both work very well,” he says, “but the problem is getting it killed in the spring.” The radishes typically don’t live through winter weather, so he’s hoping to see the soil-loosening benefits without having to deal with a living cover crop in the spring before planting.

The cover crops in the demonstration plots include tall fescue, sudangrass, Austrian winter peas, cowpeas, buckwheat, chickling vetch, crimson clover, rye at two different seeding rates, bin-run wheat at two different seeding rates, treated oats, forage oats and oilseed radish. They were planted Aug. 3 following wheat harvest, and the field will be planted with no-till corn next spring. Manure will be applied to half of each plot.

An adjacent field farmed by Alan Winner has additional cover crop demonstrations. They include plots that were broadcast-seeded Aug. 3 into standing soybeans before leaf drop and plots seeded following soybean harvest on Sept. 18.

Besides offering advantages to the soil, cover crops provide financial benefits in some parts of the state. For example, Bender points out, the Miami Conservancy District is offering a cover crop incentive program for cropland that drains into the Great Miami River. It will pay up to $50 per acre. Farmers should check with local soil and water conservation districts for information on available programs.

Keck writes from Raymond.

Farmer Tom Finkenbine (right) and Roger Bender, Ohio State University Extension ag agent in Shelby County, look over the cover crops grown in demonstration plots on Finkenbine’s farm.


FIND COVER: The cover crop demonstration plots on Tom Finkenbine’s farm will be marked through corn harvest next year, and farmers are welcome to stop and see the field anytime. See the story at right for directions.


tuber power: Massive oilseed radishes suppress weeds and break up compaction.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of OHIO FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.