Weigh Fall Forage Cover Crop Seeding Options For Soggy Northeast

Plan now to relieve forage shortages due to soggy New York, New England and northern Pennsylvania soils. Consider high-clearance cover crop seeding.

Published on: Jul 30, 2013

Farmers in New York, New England and northern Pennsylvania are suffering through a soggy summer growing season much like their counterparts in northern Wisconsin. The cold wet spring delayed corn planting and slowed first-cutting hay crops. That has many dairy producers scrambling to find enough feed.

As Mike Rankin, University of Wisconsin Extension crops specialist in Fond du Lac County, says, "Some farmers are trying to shore up short-term feed supplies. Others are worried about having enough feed to get through next spring.

What you can do
By late July, you have to rule out late-planted corn and probably sorghum sudangrass. Buying standing alfalfa or grass-legume mixes is an expensive option this year. But it's likely cheaper than buying high-quality baled alfalfa – even now, instead of when prices hit winter-time highs.

PRE-HARVEST SEEDED: This cereal cover crop was seeded by the high-clearance applicator in standing corn last fall. This is how it looked in early April.
PRE-HARVEST SEEDED: This cereal cover crop was seeded by the high-clearance applicator in standing corn last fall. This is how it looked in early April.

Rankin suggests looking at August for late-summer seeding of alfalfa or another legume crop or planting fall-seeded spring cereal grains like oats. "Late-summer-seeded alfalfa will give us nearly the equivalent of an established stand next spring.

"The other thing that comes into play a lot is that marginal 3- and 4-year-old stands were kept this year, but will be terminated for next year. If there's land available in late summer, seed it to alfalfa (or another legume) if conditions allow and forage inventories are adequate through next May."

SEED-BOMBS AWAY RIG! This machine, designed by Charles Martin of Loysville, Pa., and brother-in-law Neal Good of East Earl, Pa., is the model used for at least several home-built cover crop seeders. Itll be on display at Ag Progress Days.
'SEED-BOMBS' AWAY RIG! This machine, designed by Charles Martin of Loysville, Pa., and brother-in-law Neal Good of East Earl, Pa., is the model used for at least several home-built cover crop seeders. It'll be on display at Ag Progress Days.

Summer-seeded legumes won't produce forage this year. So if you won't have enough feed to get through to next May, spring cereal crops are the best option. "Following corn silage harvest in September or early October, winter cereal grains like rye or triticale can be seeded for forage harvest next May." And, they're good cover crops.

A high-clearance option
Keep in mind that anything you plant requires moisture to germinate and grow. One innovative solution is broadcasting those seeds into standing grain or oilseed crops before fall harvest, using a high-clearance spray applicator rigged for air-seeding into standing crops.

See page 4 of July's American Agriculturist magazine for more details on a rig used to over-seed cover crops into standing soybeans.

Learn more about how the rig is built at the cover crop demonstration plots during Penn State's Ag Progress Days, Aug. 13-15, near Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa.