Selecting cover crops and cover crop mixes

By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean check-off

When selecting a cover crop, or species mix, the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) has a decision-making tool to assist farmers in selecting the best species or mix based on the time of year in order to accomplish the goals. This resource can be found at www.mccc.msu.edu. The period from the end of July to the beginning of September allows for most all the available species of cover crops to have a reliable establishment. The time period varies by species. Some will do better if planted earlier, and some will establish better if planted later.

There are various reasons to select a cover crop mixture over a single species. “Your soil will derive more ecosystem services form multiple species,” said Dean Baas, Cover Crop Specialist with Michigan State University Extension. “Planting multiple species of cover crops will increase rotational diversity, and have an opportunity to get more plants and different types of plants in the rotation.”

When selecting species, at least one of the species in the mixture should be selected to establish based on field and growing season conditions.

“By selecting one species known to fit in the field and conditions, it may produce more stable performance year to year,” Baas said. “Individual species establishment and performance may vary from year to year.”

NRCS may also require a mix for cost share programs. In some cases, single species cover crops do have a fit.

“Planting a single species cover crop is more predictable and is easier to manage from both a seeding and termination standpoint,” Baas said. “Seeding rates are easier to calculate and calibrate for a single species cover crop, and termination plans are often simpler because it may only involve one herbicide for control.”

Usually, single species cover crops will produce just as much biomass as a cover crop mix, and research has shown that mixes of cover crops do not outperform for many of the cover crop goals.

“Single species are typically cheaper than a mix,” Baas said. “But by having a mix, there is a greater chance that one of the species will be more likely to establish and survive. It is like an insurance policy. The more coverage you have, the more expensive it is.”

Using information gathered by the Midwest Cover Crops Council, Ohio State University Extension has compiled 23 fact sheets that were recently posted on Ohioline, providing information on Ohio cover crops. These fact sheets provide information on how to identify, plant, and terminate specific cover crops, as well as rating their traits, attributes, advantages, and disadvantages.

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