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Guide to Cover Crops


When it comes to protecting the soil in your fields this winter, we’ve got you covered—literally.

While you’re bringing in the harvest, it is common to think about what went well or better than expected and reflect on how to improve for the upcoming year. While analyzing the live data coming through the combine, some may also think about how to continually protect the topsoil in their fields from soil compaction and water infiltration.

The answer to the concerns above? Cover crops.

Let’s start with the quick basics. There are three families of cover crops, and they each offer specific benefits and challenges:

  • Grains – examples of these are rye, wheat and annual grasses. These crops are great for breaking up soil compaction and improving water infiltration with their leaves by slowing down the water movement.

  • Broadleaves – like soybeans, buckwheat and flax. These are known for attracting beneficial insects for additional nutrients. They grow quickly to help shade out and suppress weeds.

  • Legumes – examples include alfalfa, clover and peas. The varieties within this family are slightly different, however, their main focus is nitrogen fixation.

When looking at the three cover crop families, your best choices heading into the winter months are grains or legumes as these families have crops that can withstand colder temperatures. Broadleaves have a variety of great crops, but these need to be planted going into the warmer season.

Here are cooler season cover crops that could benefit your fields:

  • Winter Rye – If you had to crown a king of cover crops, winter rye would be the winner. Rye helps with soil compaction and suppresses weeks while also providing a feed source for livestock producers. Another benefit of rye is you can plant it anytime from March through November. The minimum temperature for germination is 34 degrees.

  • Winter Wheat – Winter wheat is another great erosion controller while also reducing mineral leaching. The minimum temperature for germination is 38 degrees.

  • Winter Oats – Although they might not have as strong a root system as rye, oats still assist with water infiltration and soil structure. This is another great crop that helps reduce wind and water erosion. The minimum temperature for germination is 38 degrees.

  • Triticale – Triticale is a cross between wheat and cereal rye with great production of organic material and winter hardiness. The minimum temperature for germination is 34 degrees.

  • Hairy Vetch – If you are worried about frost, this cover crop may be for you. This crop is also great at choking out weeds. Although this crop is loved by many cover croppers, Hairy Vetch would be classified as a “dirty” cover crop and can be hard to get rid of. Do not feed this to livestock, especially horses. The minimum temperature for germination is 50 degrees.

The list of cover crops that farmers are utilizing in their farm management practices continues to grow. As you think over your crop and soil health as you wrap up fall and move into the planning season, give us a call. We can talk about how we can pair our products with these cover crops to improve your fields and your profits.