Cover Crop Windows - After Small Grain
“We don’t have a window for seeding cover crops.”
This is the fourth come back that we have to that statement in our 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!
We often say that adding a small grain into your rotation can be the quantum leap for your soils. Not from the small grain alone, but from the ample time after harvest for seeding a diverse cover crop. This July to August time frame leaves options wide open for what to plant after your small grain. Towards the beginning of this window we would recommend warm season options such as sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass, millet, cowpeas, berseem clover, and brassicas. Getting further into August, you could then switch to more of the cool season option like oats, barley, peas, faba beans, clovers, and brassicas. These lists are just the beginning of your options!
The benefits of this cover crop are endless. First, that bare ground will be safe from erosion and high summer temperatures with a cover seeded right away. For livestock operations, any manure that you may haul on this ground will be taken up and stored in your “catch crop" keeping it safe from run-off. Diving deeper into the benefits, blends that have such a large window of growth before a freeze will do wonders for your soil. Diversity in a blend means diversity in types of mineral uptake, types of soil biology attracted, and diverse levels of C:N Ratios when that cover crop is terminated. All of these working together to build and improve your soil. The varying root structures will feed different types of soil livestock.
Did someone mention livestock? What if we could use this cover crop to build our soil and feed our above ground livestock into the fall and winter? Summer annuals work very well for this providing an option for rotational grazing. BMR varieties of sorghum-sudangrass, suddangrass, and millet will provide extremely digestible, high quality forage. The later planted cool season options can stand up to a few frosts allowing you to extend your grazing season further into late fall and even winter. With rising hay prices, that grazing payoff itself can cover the cost of your seed!
This window could mean adjusting your rotation, but your soil may need the quantum leap that this cover crop provides!