Once a producer starts to think about planting a cover crop, what’s next? In many cases, the answer to that is, “a seemingly endless series of questions,” said DeAnn Presley, Kansas State University associate professor of agronomy. That’s where an interactive web site can be a big help.
Cover crops are a complex topic in many ways. There are a lot of choices, each with different strengths and weaknesses, Presley said. It will be necessary answer several questions about your goals and specific field conditions to make the best choices.
“There are dozens of cover crop options, and you’ll need to decide which one – or which combination of species – you’d like to use on each field you have in mind,” said Presley, who is a soils management specialist with K-State Research and Extension.
To make that decision, take into account what you’d like to accomplish with the cover crops, what cash crops the cover crops will be sandwiched between, the hardiness of the cover crop options for your area, the soil conditions of the field, and much more.
“It’s not an easy decision. Your seed supplier can be a big help, but you might like to examine all the options yourself before placing your seed order,” she said.
One of the most useful online tools for evaluating cover crop options for specific situations and locations is the Midwest Cover Crops Council Decision Tool, Presley said. Kansas has now been added to this online resource.
“At least a dozen K-State specialists, as well as representatives from the USDA-NRCS and the seed industry, have been working for more than a year now to provide the information needed to have Kansas become part of this fantastic online tool,” Presley said.
The address of the decision tool is: Midwest Cover Crops Council Cover Crop Decision Tools
On that page, click on the link that reads "Go to the Cover Crop Decision Tool-Field Crops." That will take you to the page where you enter your field-specific information, Presley said.
“This is much more than just a list of cover crop species that we know will work in Kansas. It’s an interactive tool. Producers enter some information specific to their own operation, and the website then selects some of the best cover crop options for that localized situation,” she said.
The first step after logging onto the site is to select your state and county. Then select the cash crop you’ll have on a given field, and pick a planting and harvest date. Then choose a soil drainage type, and whether the field has tile drainage (if it is poorly drained at all) or is subject to flooding. Then choose the top three goals for your cover crop.
Example: Select Butler County, Kansas. Then choose soybeans as the cash crop, with May 16 as the planting date and October 15 as the harvest date. Let’s say the field is somewhat poorly drained, does not have tile drainage, and is not subject to flooding. If the goals are “soil builder,” “lasting residue,” and “good grazing,” in that order, then you’ll find a list of 14 possible cover crop options.
The website will shade out the period of time during the year when the cash crop will be growing, and will show when each of the cover crops it selects for you can or should be planted. In this example, winter barley is one of the possible cover crops selected, and it could be planted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. The website rates it “excellent” as a soil builder, “very good” for lasting residue, and “excellent” as a grazing option (using a numerical scale of 0-4, with 4 being excellent). Finally, you can click on each of the cover crops selected to get more information about it, including seeding rates, depths and more.
Funding for the development of the Kansas portion of the website came from the Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops and the Division of Conservation from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Presley is on the Midwest Cover Crops Council board of directors.
For more information, contact DeAnn Presley at 785-532-1218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.