As harvest quickly approaches, farmers are looking to get cover crops applied.
Aerial applications of cover crop seed began in late August and early September, but for any other methods of application, things might be pushed back. Iowa State Extension Cropping Systems Specialist Mark Licht said the volatile 2019 growing season made things more complicated.
“Normally, we want to do it right ahead of or as the canopy starts to open up and light starts to get down to where the seed would be on the soil,” Licht said. “It makes sense that seeding would be delayed a little bit.”
He said aerial seeding usually begins around Aug. 20, but with the dry weather that occurred during the end of August, the cover crop likely didn’t establish well. With recent rains hitting the Midwest, he said those who are seeding later should be fine.
Despite the delays, Licht said sticking with a plan is still important. He suggested oats and rye as good choices, especially for those still new to using cover crops.
“If we are concerned with what the fall is going to do, the oats and the rye are going to be better options right now,” Licht said.
Legumes such as hairy vetch or common vetch or some of the clovers might be harder to get going this fall with the harvest delays, he said. Brassicas, such as radishes, rapeseed and mustard, might be able to be aerially seeded to avoid the delays, but it’s not ideal, he said.
Manchester, Iowa, farmer and seed salesman Kevin Glanz said people who are harvesting seed corn and chopping silage have “a good opportunity to take advantage” of the situation this year. Having extra time in September to get cover crops in the ground will be helpful.
Glanz said he is a fan of using winter rye as a cover crop, as it gives him some extra time to plant it.
“Last year, I spread rye Thanksgiving week,” Glanz said. “I got about a 50% stand so that was like an aerial seeding. Personally, I believe in putting the winter rye out there and whatever happens, happens — if I’m seeding the first week of October or Thanksgiving week.”
Requests for cover crop information have remained status quo this year, with farmers more focused on commodity prices and eyeing the return on investment for cover crops, which may be slim this year. That has an effect on people’s interest in the practice, Licht said.
“If we are hardly making money, do we have the extra funds to plant a cover crop?” Licht said. “That’s building into the decision-making process. We still have good options for cost-share, so maybe that will help offset some of the low margins.”
Glanz said with prevent plant acres taken in 2019 in many areas, he was surprised there wasn’t more summer action planting cover crops.
“That would have been a really good place this summer to do something like that,” he said.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship this summer was promoting a cost-share opportunity of up to $25 per acre for first-time cover crop users and $15 per acre for continued use.
Glanz said he has fully committed to cover crops, viewing them as simply a part of his normal rotation.
“You have to change your mindset a little bit,” he said. “It’s an important part of my crop rotation and I treat it that way. I do everything I can to help it grow, survive and benefit.”
He said he started cover cropping 12 years ago because of poor soils, and now he feels his ground is much more resilient.
“I start out with 100% in my moisture bank,” Glanz said. “I don’t dry anything out, and that has really helped. It was a little wet this spring, then turned off a little bit dry. My ground didn’t crust over.”