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Lifting the Curtain on Cover Crop Seed

One in four growers cite problems with poor germination, contamination or other issues, mostly due to lax rules enforcement and supply-and-demand challenges seen in a young industry.


Pictured Above: READY TO GO. Bags of cover crop seed are prepared for shipment from Saddle Butte Ag’s warehouse in Tangent, Ore. The majority of no-tillers surveyed by No-Till Farmer know the retailer of the cover crop seed they’re buying, but few know where it was grown
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John Stigge knew something wasn’t right when the cereal rye he drilled into a moistened field didn’t come up — even after irrigating the field twice to a depth of 1 inch.

The irrigated rye should have been a “slam dunk” for fall grazing, he says, but the rye did nothing in the fall, causing an untimely reduction in options for grazing for his cows and calves.

“When I questioned the regional seed dealer he finally admitted he had no idea what variety he had. He said, ‘Rye is rye, as far as I can tell,’” Stigge recalls. “I’ve found that the variety of cover crop is more important than the type of seed itself. I couldn’t rely on the suppliers for information because I knew more than they did.”

As adoption of cover crops in the U.S. has nearly tripled since 2010, the number of companies selling seed to farmers has also increased. Even though much of the evidence is anecdotal, some observers say complaints about cover crop seed quality and variety issues are increasing.

Companies selling cover crop seed in the small-seed industry aren’t required to certify their product and are mostly free to procure and market seed as they see…

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John-dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is 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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