Considerations For Cover Crops and Prevented Planting

Considerations For Cover Crops and Prevented Planting

Farmers considering cover crops to plant on their "prevented planting" acres have several options choose from.

There continues to be questions about cover crops and "prevented planting" options. That was evident as the Wallaces Farmer staff talked to farmers at the Farm Progress Hay Expo at Waukon in northeast Iowa this past week. Many farmers who haven't been able to get corn and soybeans planted on some of their land due to continued wet weather this year are now taking the prevented planting option offered by crop insurance. After all, it's already June 21 and it is getting late to plant soybeans—and it's definitely too late to plant corn. If you choose the prevented planting option you will get 60% of your crop insurance revenue guarantee.

HOT TOPIC: Cover crops and prevented planting dominated conversations at the Farm Progress Hay Expo June 19-20 at Waukon. Farmers with prevented planting acres should explore the benefits of planting a cover crop that has potential to capture nutrients, fix nitrogen, build soil organic matter, control weeds, control erosion and improve soil health during the rest of the growing season, says ISU forage agronomist Steve Barnhart. These together can build considerable yield potential for corn and soybean crops in following years.

So what should you do with that field if it isn't going to be planted to corn or soybeans? Don't just let it sit empty. For erosion control and a number of other soil health improvement reasons, agronomists suggest you plant a cover crop on that land.

What kind of cover crop should you plant? That's not an easy decision

There are a number of choices to use for a cover crop, notes Steve Barnhart, Iowa State University Extension forage agronomist. USDA's Risk Management Agency, which oversees federal crop insurance, has a rule that no matter which type of cover crop you plant you can't graze or harvest that cover crop until after November 1. With that in mind, Barnhart offers the following thoughts to help you choose a cover crop to plant. Look at the pros and cons and see what best fits your farming situation.

*Spring cereals—oats, spring triticale, barley, spring wheat: If planted in June, the spring cereal crops will mature and likely shatter seed by mid-to-late summer. This shatter seed may produce some volunteer plants in the fall. If the 'rules' permit mid-season management, then disking the mature cereals in late summer would effectively 'plant them' for significant fall growth and retain erosion protection.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

*Spring cereals—oats, spring triticale, barley, spring wheat: If planted in late summer, they would provide decent fall growth, but are subject to frost kill.

*Winter cereals—rye, winter triticale, winter wheat: Brian Lang, an ISU Extension field agronomist in northeast Iowa, planted rye in spring 2012. He clipped some and left some unclipped. The unclipped overwintered with noticeable winterkill. The 'late summer clipped' overwintered very well. Winter triticale would probably behave similarly; winter wheat would be more susceptible to winterkill. If planted in June, all of these would provide some forage after November 1.

*Winter cereals—rye, winter triticale, winter wheat: If planted in late summer, these crops should overwinter OK, but would not produce lots of fall harvestable growth. They would provide some grazing. If planted in early to mid-August, they would produce more fall forage.

*Ryegrass—Ryegrass planted in June would probably be OK; there should be some forage for grazing available from this cover crop in November, maybe enough for mechanical harvest such as baling or chopping it to feed.

Other questions to consider regarding which cover crop to plant on your farm

Farmers, local agronomists and crop consultants who work for co-ops and seed companies are also asking Barnhart and his ISU Extension colleagues a number of other questions about which cover crops to plant and how to manage them.

Barnhart says, "I wouldn't recommend planting perennial forage grasses and legumes (including clover) in June for future hay fields unless there is good season-long vegetation and competition control—you want to keep sunlight availability to the forage seedlings as they are establishing themselves."

*Perennial forage grasses and legumes (including clover) for future hay fields could be planted in early to mid-August. This might be considered a better planting time if there is adequate soil moisture and likelihood of average or better rainfall.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

*Annual forage legumes, such as crimson clover, Berseem clover and field peas or cowpeas, may not provide enough useable growth (or they may die prematurely) before November 1--to justify their cost. Most of these also require a special rhizobia inoculant be used on the seed prior to planting, for adequate nodulation and nitrogen fixation.

*Annual, warm-season, forage species (such as Sudangrass, sorghum x Sudangrass hybrids, millets and teff) are all frost/freeze sensitive and will likely winterkill and deteriorate by November 1. They will provide cover and will also 'scavenge' or hold existing soil nutrients, but they will not likely provide highly desirable forage by November 1.

*Buckwheat will provide summer cover and 'scavenge' or hold existing soil nutrients.

*Brassicas (turnips, kale, forage rape, 'radishes') should be planted from late July into August for best forage yield and best forage quality by November 1. If planted in June, most of these brassicas will likely 'bolt' and produce seed by fall. They can be planted with a cereal grain such as oats, triticale or rye. They are not legumes, but will intercept and hold soil nutrients like grasses. The brassicas will winterkill; however, depending on the cereal grain used, the cereals may regrow the following spring.

In addition to the economic decisions about cost and return alternatives to late planting, prevented planting, failed planting, insurance payments, etc., Barnhart says you also should consider the following:

*How the field is managed through the summer – weed management, erosion protection, etc.

*Whether you want the cover to winterkill or persist into the next growing season

*Seed availability

*Pre-applied nitrogen~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

*Susceptibility of these alternative cover or forage crops to carry-over herbicides

*Forage quality after November 1; whether the cover crop will be grazed or whether there will be a stored forage option (such as silage or hay).

Before deciding on a cover crop to plant, check with your crop insurance agent

Before selecting a cover crop to plant and buying the seed, consult your crop insurance agent. Make sure the insurance agent signs off on your cover crop decision. "Farmers are advised to check with their crop insurance agent or insurance provider on specific prevented planting requirements--and also ask them about any harvest restrictions for cover crops," advises Barnhart.

For example, planting soybeans as a cover crop is not allowed—you could lose the 60% payment you are scheduled to get from crop insurance when taking the "prevented planting" option. However, some farmers say they've already planted soybeans as a cover crop on their "prevent planted" acres. They did that because the bean seed they had already purchased to plant to produce a soybean crop is treated with a fungicide.

Soybean seed in many cases can't be returned to the seed dealer. And it definitely can't be sold into regular grain marketing channels if it is treated seed. Anyone who has already planted soybeans as a cover crop on prevented planting acres needs to talk to their insurance agent--now. Again, it is best to consult your insurance agent before you buy any type of seed and before making your cover crop planting decision, says Barnhart. You need to be clear on what the insurance company requires.

For farm management information and analysis visit Ag Decision Maker here; ISU farm management specialist Steve Johnson's site is available here.

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