Crimson clover, a common cover crop, has nitrogen-producing qualities that make it a potential boon to both the environment and farmers, Oregon State University researchers want growers to know.
The crop, which turned Oregon fields to a striking red in spring, is now being promoted nationally for its functionality.
OSU field crops Extension faculty researcher Nicole Anderson has been working with the Oregon Clover Commission to develop a market for crimson clover seed. More than 95% of the seed in the U.S. is produced in the western state, mostly in Washington and Yamhill Counties of the Willamette Valley.
Crimson clover seed sales for Oregon hit $2.5 million last year, but Anderson believes the potential is for much greater sales.
"This is a sustainable market Oregon seed producers can be invested in," she says.
Anderson and the OCC have been busy trying to expand the market by developing partnerships with local Extension agents, crop consultants, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and growers in other western states.
A brochure touting the benefits of crimson clover, which was produced by Anderson and the commission, has proved popular among growers. For more information, contact her at (503) 821-1127 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As fuel prices go up, so go the prices of nitrogen fertilizer, and crimson clover can be provide some of that valuable N resource in place of chemical fertilizer, she points out. The clover puts N into soils to the tune of 50-150 pounds per acre without reducing yields, she claims.
"Crimson can be a more expensive seed, but it's likely that it's consistently giving back a fairly high supply of nitrogen," she says. "You may be paying for the seed, but its returning money to you in fertilizer cost savings and improved soil quality."
Sale of crimson seed targets the Midwest, where corn and soybeans can benefit. Unlike western Oregon, where growers often produce crops during winter, fields in the Midwest and other regions do not. Those areas use cover crops to protect and nurture soil during months when crops aren't growing and the soil is bare.
"When people in the Midwest started looking at the increasing cost of nitrogen and the amount of pounds they are using, it seemed a natural fit," says clover producer Loren Behrman, Washington County.
"We didn't go look for that market per se; they came to us."