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Angie Peltier

Angie Peltier
Former Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture

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Hill and Furrow

Current topics about crop production in Western Illinois, including field crops research at the NWIARDC in Monmouth.
Figure. Annual ryegrass seed.
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Do you plan on planting a cover crop in 2012?

With 38 percent of the corn acreage in the Western Illinois crop reporting district harvested, there will be nothing but weeds growing on that land. Unless..... you are considering planting a cover crop.

The Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) is a coalition of people, public and private, working together to address soil, water, air, and agricultural quality concerns throughout eight Midwestern states and two Canadian provinces. The MCCC website is a warehouse of information and resources regarding cover crops, both generally and specifically, and their purported benefits and risks. Included on this website is a PDF version of the book, "Managing Cover Crops Profitably", published by Sustainable Agricultural Network, and numerous articles about each of the species in the four main cover crops categories: grasses, brassicas, legumes, non-legume broad leaf plants.

Each of the species within these four categories has a different growth habit and life cycle, and consequently may or may not work for your particular purpose. To help with selecting a cover crop to experiment with on your farm, the MCCC website has a Cover Crops Selector Tool. You can use this tool to help to select possible cover crops based upon information specific to your farm/field: county in which the field resides, cash crop plant and harvest dates, soil drainage and flooding characteristics, and the top three attributes that you'd like the cover crop to have. Attributes include: nitrogen source, nitrogen scavenger, soil builder, erosion fighter, weed fighter, good grazing, quick growth, lasting residue, forage harvest value, grain/seed harvest value, and ability to interseed with the cash crop.

A rating scale for each attribute, ranging from 0 (poor) to 4 (excellent), can help you to determine how each of the cover crop species measures up for each of the attributes most important to you. For each of the cover crops, there is a calendar feature that can help to determine which cover crops you may still be able to plant this year. This feature highlights the time-frame for reliable establishment, whether the cover crop will need to be seeded into a standing crop, whether there is a freeze risk to establishment, and whether frost seeding is possible.

Lastly, the selector tool allows you to select printable information sheets for each of the cover crop species that fit your attribute criteria. This fact sheet includes information on: planting (seeding rate, depth, etc.), termination, performance and roles, cultural traits, potential advantages, potential disadvantages, and links to additional information.

Additionally, because of some of the environmental benefits to planting cover crops, the United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers various financial incentives for farmers willing to establish a cover crop. Of particular interest to the NRCS in 2012, and detailed in a recent news release, is planting nitrogen scavenging cover crops to help reduce nitrate runoff into waterways. Local NRCS offices are a good resource for getting your cover crops questions answered.

Cover crops experiments will be established after corn and soybean harvest at the NWIARDC. Some of the cover crops species in these experiments will include: hairy vetch, crimson clover, spring oats, annual ryegrass, cereal rye, oilseed radish and dwarf winter canola (Figures).

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