Now is the time to plan for cover crops.

Farmers can utilize cover crops to protect water, build soil and as a management tool for weed suppression.

February 14, 2018 - Author: Christina Curell, Michigan State University Extension

Cover crops are one of the tools that farmers have that can help them meet their goals. Choosing the right cover crop for your cropping system is just as important as selecting which variety of corn or soybeans to plant. Cover crop species have different attributes as well as challenges. There are 3 questions that a farmer needs to answer to put together a farm plan that includes cover crops.

  1. What benefits would I like to see from a cover crop?
  2. What cover crop species will work in my farming system?
  3. How do I manage the cover crop?

                Cover crops offer a wide variety of benefits. Farmers need to determine what benefits they would like the cover crop to address. Once he/she has determined what their needs are the needs should be the priority. By ranking the desired attribute either a cover crop species or a mixture of different species can be chosen. The Michigan Cover Crop Decision Tree by Erosion, Soil Health, and Weed Control was developed for growers to help determine what cover crops can be grown to achieve environmental benefits. Due to seed sourcing, it may be difficult for a farm to obtain certain seed.  We advise farmers to have more than one cover crop option.

Once you have determined what species you would like to plant you will need to do some research on that cover crop. A species may have fit into your objectives for cover, but because of your farming system they may not work. In Michigan our climate plays a large role on what we can grow. Putting a cover in too late in the season can result in a failure.  There are also some differences within varieties. Some maybe better at a trait than others.

You have determined what you are going to plant but now the question is how you are going to manage the crop. Some species grow better when nitrogen is applied while others don’t need any help. The cover can be seeded, broadcasted or even aerial applied.  Your seeding method will also determine how much seed you will need. Another concern is crop termination. Do you want the crop winter killed or do you have the means for chemical termination?  You also want to make sure that the cover crop will not cause any pest problems in your crop rotation.

When you answer these questions you should be able to put together a good cropping system plan that includes cover crop. To help farmers determine their cover crop options MSUE has educators designated to help growers. Visit, for a list of cover crop educators and for more information on cover crops in Michigan

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