Cover Crop Traits
Cover crops provide more than traditional erosion-control benefits. To access these perks, you need to know each cover crop’s specialty and how to manage the different cover crops.
This cereal prevents erosion, scavenges nutrients, suppresses weeds, and adds biomass.
For beginners, oats are one of your best tools ahead of corn, says Barry Fisher, an Indiana soil health specialist at USDA-NRCS. Rapid fall growth paired with winterkill will provide stored nutrients from the fall to be readily available to the corn crop, he says.
This brassica is known for its rapid fall growth. Its long taproot, reaching depths of up to 6 feet, is able to bust through shallow layers of compacted soils, which alleviates compaction. Because the long taproot grows deep into the soil profile, it’s able to scavenge nutrients, which would be otherwise lost to leaching and denitrification, says Tracy Blackmer, research director at Cover Crop Solutions.
Those who have goals centered on preventing erosion, improving soil structure, and scavenging nutrients should consider annual ryegrass, recommends Fisher. This thick, quick-growing grass produces significant deep root biomass that builds soil organic matter, accesses nutrients, suppresses weeds, and curbs soil erosion.
This easily grown cover crop is established quickly in the fall.
“It’s an option for farmers looking to graze their cover crop or to add biomass,” says Blackmer.
This rapidly growing legume provides early-spring N to the following cash crop. In addition to fixing N, it performs well in mixtures. It’s an excellent N scavenger and can help with building soil and preventing erosion, says Blackmer.
This cover is excellent with N fixation. Though not quick to establish, it suppresses weeds once established. Hairy vetch also tolerates drought, which can be an added benefit with volatile weather.
This easy-to-establish cover crop scavenges N and adds organic matter to the soil. If you want erosion control, it’s going to be difficult to beat cereal rye, says Fisher.
If you’re new to cover crops, he recommends planting a cereal rye into standing corn – or immediately after harvest – to allow it time to sequester nutrients.
Curious how to seed these cover crops? Click here to learn about common and new cover crop seeding options.
To access the perks of cover crops, make sure you know each cover crop's specialty.