The wheat crop is going to be harvested later than normal in almost all areas of Ohio this year due to the cooler than normal spring temperatures. This leaves farmers with some tough choices once the wheat acres are harvested. Is it too late to double-crop? Do you plant cover crops? Do you just leave the wheat ground fallow?
Wheat harvest normally begins around July 1in many parts of Ohio. With warmer than normal springs, like 2012, harvest was earlier and double-crop soybeans were a good option. Unfortunately, the spring of 2014 was cooler than normal and will cause a delay in harvest. According to The Ohio State University Fact Sheet AGF 103-01, double-crop soybeans should not be planted after July 10. There are some farmers who have had success planting after that date in southern Ohio, but the risk of not harvesting a crop is greater. The fields in northern Ohio will be too late to plant soybeans.
Another option to consider is planting cover crops. Cover crops can offer many advantages such as building organic matter, reducing compaction, feeding microbes in the soil, increasing water infiltration, recovering nutrients, suppressing weeds, and adding nitrogen for future crops, just to name a few. Each cover crop has its own niche and advantages.
Figuring out which cover crop to grow can be a daunting task based on the number of options out there. To help you decide which cover crop to choose, it is important to figure out what you want to accomplish. If your goal is to reduce compaction layers, then planting deeper-rooted cover crops such as radishes, turnips, or annual ryegrass might be an option. If you are just trying to build organic matter and feed the microbes, you can keep it simple by planting cereal rye, annual ryegrass, or oats. If you want to add nitrogen to a future crop, consider the legumes such as red and sweet clover, cowpeas, or winter peas. If you plant double crop soybeans and they are killed by a frost, they will still provide some nitrogen to the next year’s crop. Talk to a cover crop specialist to figure out which product is right for you.
The last option you may consider is not planting anything and just leaving wheat stubble or tilling it in. Although this is an option, you may be leaving your soil microbes starving. During the warm summer months it is important to have your soil alive and active. Your soil is living. If you feed it with living crops, then you will reap greater rewards in the future.