Making Cover Crops Work in Northern Regions

South Dakota NRCS agronomist Jason Miller shares tips on customizing a cover crop system to less-than-ideal growing conditions.

Pictured Above: BEST SPECIES FOR GRAZING. For grazing, Jason Miller recommends turnips, rape, radish, rye oats, triticale, sorghum-sudan, sugar beet, sunflower, field peas and common vetch. Many of these cover crop species help combat soil compaction as well because they have deeper tap roots

COVER CROPS have been slower to catch on in northern regions because there are more obstacles than in warmer climates. A shorter growing season, fewer days of sunlight, and in recent years, more moisture, have all proven challenging for northern growers who may have considered cover crops. 

At the 2020 National No-Till Conference, Jason Miller, an NRCS agronomist based in South Dakota, shared insights on how cover crops can be used to meet growers’ objectives, even in northern climates.

Miller has been with NRCS for 30 years. He’s been working with the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, S.D., since 1997. During his career, Miller has learned that cover crops are just one component of a soil health system, in addition to crop rotation, no-till, nutrient management and integrated pest management.

According to Miller, increasing soil health and/or quality should be the main focus of any cropland system. 

“Restoring soil resilience is a must,” he says. “Soil resilience, increasing organic matter, improving soil biology, improving water filtration and decreasing soil compaction ultimately add more dollars in your pocket and improve crop production.”

Selecting Cover Crop Species

Miller suggests that growers consider multiple objectives when selecting cover crop species.

“What will the following year’s cash crop be…

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