By David Karki, Extension Agronomy Field Specialist

Farmers often look for ways to increase revenue. In the Upper Great Plains it might not be economical, or practical, to plant another grain crop during the growing year, however, cover crops should be considered as they provide multiple benefits.

The primary benefit is more forage production which can be used for on-farm use or sold. Environmentally friendly cover crops improve soil quality by protecting it from erosion, increased soil microbial activity, and nutrient cycling, all while managing nitrogen and adding carbon. For this project, our objective was to evaluate different cover crop blends for total forage production and forage quality.

Small plots (3’ x 10’) were planted in July 2017 in a Randomized Complete Block Design (RCBD) with three replicates at the Northeast Research Farm (NE) near South Shore, SD, and Southeast Research Farm (SE) near Beresford, SD. Five to six cover crop blends from each location were used to examine total dry matter (DM) content and forage quality.

Dry matter concentration was determined by collecting a sample of harvested biomass and drying at 60oC for 72 hours in a forced-air oven and reweighing the dried biomass. The biomass was sent to SGS North America in Brookings, SD, for forage quality analyses. The data was analyzed using standard ANOVA techniques in Statistix 7 (Analytical Software, 2000). A least significant difference was used to separate means when the appropriate F test was statistically significant (P=0.05).

Quality data was used to support and provide knowledge on cover crop performance. Total biomass and forage quality were determined at two locations during 2017 (Table 2). Overall yield did not increase significantly and forage quality varied among blends.

Even though cover crops can be grown as single species or in a mixture of variety of plant species, they are mostly marketed and grown as blends. In a grazing system it is important to consider the quality of the cover crop to provide good forage for cattle.