Picking A Strategy For Unplanted Fields

Experts say cover crops are the best option for no-tillers to suppress weeds, and boost nutrient levels and soil microbial activity ahead of next year’s planting.

No-tillers face some important decisions this fall on what to do with fields that went unplanted because of spring storms that inundated the Midwest.

Heavy rain left millions of acres unplanted in places like Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana and several other states.

Planting cover crops in these open fields appears to be the favored option for no-tillers to build up nutrient levels and suppress weeds ahead of planting next year.

No-tillers seeding overwintering grain crops have fewer options because there won’t be time for cover crops to germinate and reach full potential. That means weed control will be crucial until crops are in the ground.

Choices Abound

Paul Gross, Michigan State University Extension educator for Isabella County, says cover crops provide many benefits for soil microbes, such as the mycorrhizae, that live in association with crop roots and help the plant obtain nutrients and water from the soil.

Which cover crop is chosen for these fields depends on what growers want to accomplish during the winter.

Nathan Winter and Jill Sackett, University of Minnesota Extension agronomists, say cover crops work well after small grains and silage, and can be worked into a corn-soybean rotation — especially when overseeded at the leaf-yellowing stage of those crops.

There are a few main categories of cover-crop species:

  • Grasses include oats, triticale, millet and winter rye.
  • Legumes include clovers, field peas, alfalfa and vetches.
  • Brassicas/mustards include radishes, canola, forage turnips and yellow mustard

    Going To Corn

  • If a field is being no-tilled to…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein was senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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