The Cover Crop Advantage

Wheat acres are the ideal place to introduce a cover crop in your cropping system

Not only does the winter wheat crop itself provide active roots and soil protection for 10 months of the year, wheat stubble after harvest is the perfect choice to establish a cover crop. The cover crop will then provide an additional period of protection until termination before planting the next crop.

If you have been successful in establishing a good stand of red clover underseeded to your wheat crop, continue to do so, as it provides the best nitrogen retention and contributes greatly to soil structure. For the many who have struggled to get consistent results with red clover, be sure to investigate the options for direct seeding of a dedicated cover crop immediately after your wheat comes off. There is a growing list of excellent cover crop seed choices. Define the goals that you wish your cover to accomplish and then choose your mix and method of establishment to satisfy those goals.

There is a very large list of benefits that are realized when growers include cover crops in their cropping system:

Improving Soil Structure

More roots for more months of the year will improve your soil structure. August, September, and October still provide lots of sunshine and warm weather. The cover crop will take advantage of that sunlight and turn it in to biomass. This biomass will create additional organic matter and improve your soil health and soil structure. The living roots will help to penetrate compaction layers and then the plant material will provide structure to help avoid future compaction from field activities.

The physical protection from the cover crop will keep the soil in place during heavy rain events or extreme winds. The improvement in soil structure and gain in organic matter will also improve the water infiltration and water holding capacity of the soil, making the soil more resilient during drought periods.

Weed Suppresion

If your cover crop is established, weeds will have a tough time to compete, and over time, weed pressure will be reduced.

Nutrient Cycling

Certain species within a cover crop mix will use nutrients (like nitrogen) to grow, store them, and then release them to the following crops as they break-down. Cover crops work extremely well in combination with manure or other nutrient amendments.

Increased Diversity of Soil Life

Introduction of a variety of crop species will improve the diversity of the biological life in the soil. There will be higher earthworm numbers. There will also be greater activity from important soil fungi. The transformation from “good dirt”, to “good soil” will be noticeable.

Following a balanced crop rotation and including focused efforts to improve your soil health will go a long way to improving the productivity and profitability of your cropping system.

Sign up for The Wheat News Plus