When you go to the closet each morning and pull something out to get dressed, how do you decide what to wear? Maybe you choose a pair of jeans for their utility, a sweatshirt for the weather, and a T-shirt because it’s just comfortable.
Your schedule for the day may also influence your choices — you wouldn’t wear your work clothes to for church. No matter what drives your choices, you ultimately choose clothing that works for you, not for anyone else.
Choosing the right cover crop is very similar to selecting clothing. Each crop year is different, and there will be various reasons influencing the decision — the amount of biomass you want produced, your preferred method of cover crop termination, weed control, and more. You have to choose cover crops that are best for your operation, the weather, soil conditions and cash crops. Do you need just one species, or a whole mix of cover crops to meet your needs?
According to information from the Soil Health Partnership, the best place to start making your cover crop decision is when the crop will be established — are the species winter hardy, conditionally winter hardy or winterkilled? Or are summer annual covers the best for your operation?
Once you’ve determined what your cover crop goal is and the best type of covers to achieve that, you can zero in on which species will help you achieve the soil health benefits you’re looking for, such as breaking up compaction, controlling erosion, providing grazing for livestock, etc.
If you’re looking for guidance on choosing the right cover crops and cover crop mixtures for your operation, there are a lot of sources available to help. Midwest Cover Crop Council has an excellent tool for choosing cover crop species. North Dakota State University Extension has a tool available to assist growers with walking through the decision of choosing cover crops based on your soil health objectives and the type of cropping system. Cover crop seed providers can also be a resource for helping growers make choices.
Whatever you do, be sure you are choosing cover crop species based on what’s best for your operation — and you are the grower who knows that best.