Choosing cover crops

There is help for producers to determine what cover crops they should use in their rotation.

Cover crops are a versatile tool that producers can use to increase soil health, decrease production costs, conserve water and keep soil active during a time when primary crops are not actively growing. Cover crops can be cool and warm season grasses, legumes and brassicas. The question for many farmers is what cover crops can I use to fill these gaps and improve soil in my farming rotation?

There are many different cover crop choices for farmers to look at. In Michigan, cereal rye is the grass that is used most often and red clover is the legume that many use. Oilseed radish is quickly becoming the brassica of choice in Michigan. There are many other species of cover crops that can be put in farming operations that have other added benefits. This year cover crops may fill a need for added feed for many livestock farms. Cover crops can extend the grazing season as well as being chopped for feed. They can also be used this year to capture any residual nutrients that may not have been used by the crops because of drought conditions.

There are tools that farmers can use to assist them determine what cover crop to use. The Cover Crop Selector Tool has been developed for field crops and vegetables to help farmers figure out what common cover crops can be put into their systems.

Farmers in Michigan also can contact Paul Gross or Christina Curell, with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension with questions regarding cover crops choices.

There will be field days throughout Michigan this fall that will allow farmers to look at cover crops growing and compare them to other cover crops. The first event will be on Aug. 23, 2012 near Hamilton, Mich. in Allegan County. This event will look at several common as well as some exotic cover crop species. This catered event will be at 47th St. north of Hamilton (M-40) one mile from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Contact Christina Curell or Mark Ludwig at the Allegan Conservation District 269-673-8965 ext. 4. This is sponsored by MSU Extension, Allegan Conservation District, Macatawa Watershed Association and the Great Lakes Cover Crop Initiative.

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