Using Multi-Species Cover Crops
for Your Benefit
Dave Wilson, Research Agronomist, King's AgriSeeds
Added September 11, 2013. Multi-species cover cropping (a.k.a. crop cocktails) has gained a lot of attention among farmers. On Friday of the 13th Annual NODPA field day, I along with two of my colleagues (Charlie White from Penn State extension and Jeff Moyer from the Rodale Institute) will be presenting information and answering questions concerning cover crop mixes.
Mixes of cover crops can be used on your farm to prevent soil erosion, add organic matter to the soil, improve the soil structure, recycle nutrients, and actively feed soil microbes. On dairy farms diverse cover crop/forage mixes can bring these benefits and also be utilized to grow nutritious, high energy forage.
We want help farmers gain the benefit of lush growing cover crop or forage and also understand the benefits of what’s going on underneath the soil surface. Root biomass – It’s all about the roots; not necessarily the growth you see above ground, but what is going on beneath.
Roots from a diverse grass-legume mixture (below) recycle nutrients, feed microorganisms, sequester carbon and secrete exudates that feed soil microbes and form soil aggregates. Plant roots send exudates (sugars and other polysaccharides) into the soil to feed microorganisms. Root material and cover crop residues also feed worms.
Below: a winter annual mix of three way clover (medium red clover, yellow blossom sweet clover and Ladino White Clover) provides winter soil cover, weed suppression, nitrogen fixation, can also be cut or grazed if needed, or turned under as a nitrogen-rich green manure.
Below: Three-Way Clover growing with oats in the spring. The oats were harvested in July and used as dairy feed grain. The clover was left to grow after the oats harvest and used to make clover haylage.
Below: a picture of the field of three way clover after it was left to grow - picture taken in September.
This is a diverse mix of Annual Ryegrass, Medium Red Clover, Yellow blossom Sweet Clover, Crimson Clover and Daikon Radish.
Below: Radish holes from the Daikon Radish in the Broadcaster mix. The radishes grew in the fall of the year then the radishes winter killed. The clovers and annual ryegrass over wintered to grow a rich haylage. Picture taken on 4-16-2012, mix planted in August 2011.
Below: Broadcaster Mix growing in the spring. The annual ryegrass and mix of clovers grew a nice sward for haylage.
There has been much interest in incorporating the Daikon Radish into diverse mixes. The Daikon Radish can be grown as a forage radish to be grazed, or it can be utilized as a cover crop to benefit the soil. Its deep tap root scavenges and recycles nutrients, and also helps break up soil hard pans with its growth. Notably, the planting date greatly influences the growth potential of the daikon radish root. If planted in August the average root growth can be an inch a day once established, but will be less with later plantings.
Below: Daikon radish planted at subsequent dates into the late summer.
Below: Daikon Radish and triticale growing after corn on an organic dairy farm. The Daikon Radish and triticale were seeded with an air seeder into the standing corn before corn silage harvest. After the corn silage harvest the radish and triticale grew, the radish winter killed, and the triticale provided a grazing early the next spring.
Barley and Clover
Below: Barley growing with crimson clover (100 lbs/acre of barley with 25 lbs/acre of crimson clover). Crimson clover can be planted with the small grains for a nutritious over wintering forage. Put barley in the big box and crimson clover in the small box. Seed barley 1.0 to 1.5 inches deep. The crimson clover should drop out from small box at shallower depth. The addition of the crimson clover increases the dry matter yield and quality components of the mix.
Below: If we tweak the seeding rates of the winter barley and crimson clover, we can achieve a heavier clover stand with less barley in the mix. Below is a picture of barley and crimson clover (1 bu of Barley per acre and 30 lbs of crimson clover per acre), which gave a heavier clover stand. This was grown by an organic farmer in Maryland as an over-wintering cover crop, plowed down for green manure in the spring to provide nitrogen for organic corn.
Below - A close up of a diverse four species summer annual cocktail mix.
Dave Wilson will be a presenter at the NODPA Field Days, talking about Multi-Species Cover Cropping on Friday afternoon, September 27th with Charlie White of Penn State Extension and Jeff Moyer of Rodale Institute.