Cover Crop Windows - After Fall Harvest
“We don’t have a window for seeding cover crops.”
This is the fifth and final way we respond to that statement in a series explaining the various windows for cover crops on most farms. Key word there is most, every farm is different and this can be adjusted in ways that work for you. Disclaimer: The dates of these windows will vary based on region!
This is generally the most common window of seeding that producers think of when it comes to cover crops. What is the downfall of this option? That red line that reads “Cut-off for Diversity” above. While, there is plenty of time to get something seeded after fall harvest, the options for diverse blends declines mid-September in most areas and not many fall harvested crops are off by then. That being said, this is still a great opportunity to seed covers!
Options before that diversity cut-off include cool season annual grasses, clovers, brassicas, peas, lentils and more! It all depends on your resource concern. Stick to the higher forage options if you want to graze. Use more legumes if you are trying to fix nitrogen for the next crop. Incorporate brassicas into the mix if you are trying to work on compaction and soil structure. Taking advantage of the opportunity before mid-September to add as much diversity as possible is very important. This is also an opportunity to get your winter annual small grain established to set yourself up for your quantum leap year!
Mid-September we stop recommending most clovers and brassicas as they will generally not get enough growth to provide enough benefit. So, what can you plant after that red line cut-off? Winter cereal grains are the main options, with triticale and wheat being cut-off in mid-October. That leaves cereal rye which, as many know, can be seeded basically up until the ground freezes. Cereal rye is stubborn and will continue putting roots down as long as temperatures are above or around 34 degrees. We have heard many stories of cereal rye being seeded at Christmas and still coming up in the spring as the first cover crop to green up (great for catching all the sunlight possible).
Many of the seeding options mentioned above have a dual purpose of cover crop and forage if you need it. As a cover crop, they hold soil in place and keep a living root in the ground as long as possible to feed your soil biology. The earlier-planted diverse blends can be stockpiled and rotationally grazed. This helps extend your grazing season in the fall. Even the later planted options can be grazed in the fall, but be careful with this as to not knock them out before winter. Those winter annuals can also be grazed in the spring to provide early forage and ground with a cover for calving.
The options for this window vary based on what your goal of the species seeded this time of year are, adjust to what is best for your operation and the year to come!