If you’re on the fence on whether to use cover crops, Jim Stute asks: Does the alternative make sense?

There were lots of positive alternatives shared last week at the Wisconsin Cover Crops Conference held in Baraboo, Wisc. Stute, research director for the Michael Fields Institute in East Troy, Wisc., showed attendees what usually happens when a field is left bare after harvest: Nature places its own cover of weeds.

He then shared what some of the other, preferable, options are for those in the Upper Midwest. One cover-crop scenario he recommends is interseeding red clover into winter wheat.

Unlike other species, Stute says, red clover can handle the low-light intensity in the wheat canopy, and it’s an effective nitrogen producer. The current nitrogen-credit recommendation is 40 pounds for red clover that has a top growth of less than 6 inches, and 50 to 80 pounds if it’s more than 6 inches.

Another tip: No-tillers who don’t have winter wheat in their rotation, and are looking for a cover that can germinate late, may want to consider chickling vetch.

Wisconsin organic farmer Christine Mason says chickling vetch was developed in Canada, so it germinates at temperatures even colder than oats and barley. It serves as the farm’s main source of nitrogen, and they’re still able to beat yield averages for cereal grains and row crops. The vetch also winterkills, so the farm doesn’t have to terminate it in the spring.

Mason says they’ll usually mix chickling vetch with oats or barley so it comes up faster and helps suppress weeds.

Whether it’s red clover, chickling vetch, cereal rye or another cover crop, there’s always a better scenario than letting weeds be your cover, and it will benefit your soils and cash crops in more ways than one.

Laura Allen,
Associate Editor
No-Till Farmer