Stacking the deck: how to win at cover crop establishment

Learn more about methods and equipment for establishing cover crops at MSU Agricultural Innovations Day on August 24.

Interseeding cover crops into MI corn | Photo by Dean Baas
Interseeding cover crops into MI corn | Photo by Dean Baas

Interest in cover crops has grown in recent years to reduce soil erosion, decrease nutrient runoff and leaching, increase soil productivity, and manage shifts in weed populations and challenges with insects and plant diseases. While interest and awareness has grown, establishing cover crops remains the biggest challenge facing producers who currently use cover crops and is the second biggest barrier to cover crop adoption for non-users (2014-2015 Cover Crop Survey- CTIC & NC-SARE). On August 24, MSU Agriculture Innovation Day in Frankenmuth, MI aims to continue raising awareness while addressing establishment issues include timing and method of planting and species selection.

Historically, the largest window of opportunity for planting cover crops has been following small grain harvest in mid-summer. Late-July and August planting of cover crops allows for up to three months of growth prior to frost, increasing the choices for species selection. Interseeding cover crops into standing cash crops is another opportunity that can extend the cover crop growing season. Though seeding clover into wheat early in the spring (i.e. frost-seeding) has been practiced for many years, innovative equipment has now made interseeding into row crops an option too. Research at MSU is on-going to determine the best practices for successful interseeding and the impacts on cash crop yield and the environment.

Cover crop selection, be it one species or a mixture of species, is guided by producer goals (e.g. nutrient cycling, options for grazing, etc.), the available growing time for the cover crop and seed costs and availability. One of the advantages of using a cover crop mixture include the potential to meet multiple goals. MSU is currently working to understand how species complement one and other in mixtures and the best relative seeding ratios.

Cover crop establishment will be one of the focal points at MSU Agricultural Innovations: Focus on Soils (Aug. 24, Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth, MI). At this event, farmers will have the opportunity to see cover crop species options following small grains and interseeded into corn, including mixtures. There will also be the opportunity to see interseeding equipment and to hear about the latest MSU research focused on establishing cover crops in Michigan.

MSU Agriculture Innovations is slated to become an annual event that will focus on in-depth education on a single topic. The event will rotate to various locations throughout the state. Experts will deliver innovative information to help producers take the next step in improving their bottom line while maintaining environmentally sound practices on their farms.

The 2016 event will begin with registration at 8 a.m. and wrap up around 4 p.m. The event is free and includes lunch.

MSU Agriculture Innovations is supported by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University Extension, AgBioResearch. To learn more, visit or contact Ron Bates at

A new MSUE Cover Crops website has been launched to showcase cover crop resources and research going on at MSU. You can also follow the MSU Cover Crops Team on Twitter @MSUcovercrops. For more information on cover crops, contact me at, Dean Baas at, Paul Gross at or Christina Curell at

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