Pick the Right Cover Crop For Your Needs

There are many choices. Be sure to get the cover crop that works for you.

Published on: May 3, 2013

If you plan to do a little experiment this fall with cover crops, you're probably not alone. But first things first, know what kind of investment you are looking at – obviously, seed and application are not free.

Yet Jenny Vogel, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, based in North Vernon, believes the results are worth it. She took a probe truck to the field earlier this month and asked farmers and others to come along. She drilled several cores and split them open, finding roots more than three feet deep in some cases.

Annual ryegrass has gotten a lot of play. Some use it successfully, others shy away because of fears it may be hard to kill. Roger Wenning, Decatur County, says you can kill it if you follow the rules: Don't skimp on glyphosate roots and apply it in the middle of the day this early in the season.

Deep roots: Notice how deep the roots go from this crimson clover cover crop.
Deep roots: Notice how deep the roots go from this crimson clover cover crop.

Cereal rye is also popular. It can be planted later in the fall than most other cover crops and still produce good cover in both fall and spring. The catch is stopping it at knee-high. Blink and it will be waist high.

Some farmers are trying crimson clover. Vogel took farmers to one field where the farmer seeded crimson clover and oats last fall. The oats winter-killed, as expected. The crimson clover was alive and well this spring. When she drew a core out of the crimson clover stand, and then broke the cylinder of soil open, there were plenty of roots running all the way down the profile.

The goal is to let roots make channels for water to flow, for roots to follow in from the next crop, and to restore and build soil health. She believes crimson clover is one of the tools that is worth a look if these are your goals.

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Plant Cover Crops In A Drought Year? You Bet. Cover crops can help conserve moisture, keep soil covered and provide residue going into the cropping season. Download our free report Cover Crops: Best Management Practices.