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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies
Dudley Smith

Cover cropping options following a late crop

Posted by Travis Meteer - Grazing

A few farmers have taken end rows off in western IL, but no major rush to harvest as late planted corn is drying slowly in this cool, damp weather. Still, some corn silage has been chopped and a few fields harvested.

For the diversified farmer who has cattle there may still be opportunity to seed a cover crop to help produce more forage. Options include aerial seeding or drilling behind the harvested crop.

Last year came with many headaches, but it was ideal for planting and growing a cover crop. The row crop was out early, unused nitrogen fertilizer was available, and the hurricane rains provided ample rainfall for near-perfect germination. Following rains helped us grow a very abundant cover crop stand last year.

The story is much different this year. Late plantings, slow dry-down, less remaining fertilizer, and simply put... less time. Producers do still have some options to make cover crops work this year.

Oats and turnips are a popular fall grazing mix. They should already be seeded. If you choose to plant oats and turnips late, just be aware yields will be far lower than advertised and you will need to wait until early winter to graze. From a soils perspective green growth means you are feeding the soil, so some good is coming of the plant even if forage yields are lower. Oats are still a popular choice because they do not overwinter well and thus control in the spring is much less of an issue.

If you haven't seeded anything yet and want to produce some tonnage for fall grazing Annual Rye will be the best option. Annual Rye will have more fall growth than cereal rye and will be less likely to overwinter well. As a result, Annual Rye will provide you with little for early spring grazing. If you are looking to a cover crop that will stay green and over winter for spring grazing or harvesting you may want to look at cereal rye or triticale. These forages will over winter well and really take off in the spring. They can be grazed intensively in the spring or chopped and bagged. Beware they are harder to kill and will need a timely burn-down application in the spring.

I believe cover crops are a great tool for the diversified farmer. Mutualistic benefits for livestock feed and soil health make them somewhat of a win-win. However, producers need to explore best options for each and every year.

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