Cowpeas in a University of Wisconsin Extension plot on Statz Brothers Farms in Marshall, Wis., fix 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Image: Kevin Shelley

Buckwheat, Sunn Hemp & Cowpeas Offer Soil Health Benefits for No-Tillers

Buckwheat, sunn hemp & cowpeas all offer nitrogen fixing benefits & increased soil health

Cereal rye and winter wheat are two of the most commonly used cover crops for corn and soybean growers, but there are some alternative cover crops with a lot of potential for helping improve soil health and cash crop yield. Esther Duraraj, research agronomist with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wis., has been working on trials involving less common cover crops, including buckwheat, sunn hemp and cowpeas


One alternative cover crop that could have some serious upsides in terms of combating weeds and increasing biomass is buckwheat.  

“It is a pretty sensitive crop, but it grows very quickly and will help prevent erosion, compete with annual perennial weeds, and it’s typically ready for incorporation in 35 days,” Durairaj says. “It also produces the highest biomass within 35-45 days, so the recommendation is to terminate the cover crop within 7-10 days after flowering because we don’t want to let it go to seed.” 

Durairaj says some growers will terminate buckwheat and then grow another crop of it a couple times during a season to maintain good weed control and continue to increase biomass. 

“Honey bees and bumble bees also love this crop,” Durairaj says. “So if you want to help provide flowers for them and continue to have natural activities going on in your fields, it’s a great cover crop.”

Sunn Hemp

This cover crop species is a legume and has the ability to fix between 100-150 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre. 

“The important thing is…

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Mackane vogel

Mackane Vogel

Mackane Vogel is the Assistant Editor of Farm Equipment, No-Till Farmer, Cover Crop Strategies and other Lessiter Media publications. An avid writer for the last 10 years, he previously served as the editorial intern for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and also wrote for several different sports journalism outlets before joining the Lessiter Media team in 2022. Mackane is a 2020 journalism graduate of Marquette University.


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