Historic high wheat prices last fall sparked a 150% increase in Iowa winter wheat acres, from 20 thousand acres to 50 thousand acres, according estimates by the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service. A recent climb in wheat contract prices the past two weeks to nearly $20 per bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange is fueling farmer interest in spring wheat plantings as well.
For farmers choosing to grow wheat, interseeding red clover with their wheat crop could provide a number of benefits, says Lance Gibson, a professor of agronomy who specializes in small grains and forages at Iowa State University.
"Red clover can supply nitrogen to a subsequent corn crop, provide forage for livestock and build soil quality," says Gibson. "Because red clover is a legume, it's capable of biologically fixing atmospheric nitrogen. Research done in the Upper Midwest has shown average fertilizer replacement value of red clover for a subsequent corn crop is 80 to 120 pounds per acre."
Grow your own nitrogen for corn crop
Good stands of recently developed red clover varieties can provide multiple years of high quality forage, according to Gibson. He also cites research showing animal performance from red clover can be as high as, or even higher than, alfalfa. Red clover also can help control soil erosion, suppress weeds and build soil organic matter.
Interseeding red clover into winter wheat is accomplished using frost seeding techniques. Red clover seed is broadcast over the wheat crop in late March or early April.
For spring wheat acres, seeding of red clover can be combined with the spring wheat planting operation. Combined planting of the clover and the wheat at the same time requires the use of a seed drill that is capable of simultaneously planting wheat and red clover seed.
The Iowa State University Extension publication "Intercropping Winter Cereal Grains and Red Clover" contains best management practices for seeding red clover into wheat and information on managing the red clover crop as a green manure or forage crop. It can be obtained free as a PDF document on the Web at www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM2025.pdf or from ISU Extension field agronomists and ISU Extension offices.