This information was prepared by Indiana Conservation Partnership personnel and other partners, led by a team from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, including Don Donovan, district conservationist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Victor Shelton, state agronomist/grazing specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist.
Here are seven tips that should stimulate your thinking about seeding cover crops. The window will quickly close on the best seeding time for cover crops.
1. Soil health improvement starts now. The first step is to persuade yourself either to try cover crops or to expand your current acreage, and then order the seed. There is no better time to start than now, Donovan says.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you haven’t raised cover crops before, start with a field or two currently in corn that you will likely harvest first. They may be fields planted earlier with well-drained soils, and that are planned for soybeans next year.
3. After harvest, drill winter cereal rye. This is certainly one option, especially if you are new to cover crops. Donovan recommends 46 pounds per acre seeded between mid-August and early November. The earlier you can seed, the better.
4. Use fields where you don’t plant cover crops for comparison. If you have other fields that are similar but won’t be planted with cover crops, you’ll have a good comparison for how valuable cover crops can be to soil health.
5. If you’re experienced, you may want to look at mixes. One of the key principles to building soil health is to improve biodiversity. This primarily refers to the diversity of soil organisms underfoot, but is managed through the diversity of plants aboveground. Include some more diverse mixes into your soil health journey.
It’s important to plant mixes on a date that works for each species in the mix. This can really narrow the planting date window. It’s most likely after early harvested crops such as wheat, silage or even prevented planting fields, Donovan says.
6. Consider multiple seeding dates. You could also seed various species at different times. For example, an early July planting would allow a mix of sorghum-sudangrass, buckwheat, crimson clover and cowpea to get a good start. However, many of these will be dormant by fall or winter, so another seeding in mid-August of winter cereal rye and brassicas such as rape, turnip and radish will provide additional diversity and resource protection.
Contact your local NRCS office for advice on species, seeding dates, rates and management recommendations for mixes.
7. Take advantage of prevented planting acres. If you have prevented planting acres, consider improving soil health by planting a cover crop. Cover crops can protect your prevented planting fields from erosion, improve your soil organic matter, retain and cycle your nutrients, and reduce compaction layers. August is a perfect time to plant many cover crop species such as cereal rye, turnips, radishes, spring oats and crimson clover.
Always coordinate your decisions with your crop insurance provider and other program agents to ensure compatibility with other program requirements. Then, contact your local NRCS office for advice on species, seeding dates, rates and management recommendations.