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Diverse Cover Crops – An opportunity to learn

By Sarah Sommerfeld, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist, Outlook

June 2017

If you have looked at an agriculture publication lately, or been to a recent farm or livestock event, you have likely seen or heard something about diverse cover crops. There is an increasing interest to use these crop mixes on-farm. With the adoption of new cropping systems comes the opportunity and challenge to learn more about them.

A cover crop can be defined as a crop grown to protect and improve the soil. Soil benefits that can be achieved from growing a diverse cover crop can include reducing soil compaction, increasing soil organic matter and improving, soil infiltration and moisture retention. These diverse cover crop mixtures can be a forage supply that is utilized by livestock, either as stored feed or grazing.

To know what types of crops to include in a diverse cover crop mixture, a goal must be set for the area to be seeded. Will the stand be cut for greenfeed, rotational grazing or stockpiled grazing? Not all forage species are created equal in their adaptation to different management choices. Site issues such as soil type, salinity, compaction or erosion control may be considered. Perhaps addressing site issues is also part of the goal. Forage species are not equal in their capability to tolerate conditions such as drought, flooding or salinity. 

When looking at the crop choices that can be part of a diverse cover crop mixture, there are six categories of potential annual forage crops that can be included into a mix. These categories are:

  • Cool season annual cereals – barley, oats, triticale;
  • Warm season annual cereals – millets, corn;
  • Winter annual cereals – fall rye, winter wheat, winter triticale;
  • Oilseeds – sunflower, safflower, soybean;
  • Annual legumes – peas, hairy vetch; and
  • Tubers – kale, turnip, radish.

Time of seeding influences crop choices for the mixture. Cool season plants favour early spring growing conditions, with cooler night time temperatures. Warm season plants favour summer growing conditions with warmer night time temperatures. Matching the maturity of the cover crop mixture to the estimated time of growth to reach the goal is important. Including species that mature too early, or too late, is not advantageous.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture is partnering with the Saskatchewan Forage Council to host a Diverse Cover Crop Field Day on August 16 at Mervin, SK. The event will focus on integrating diverse cover crops and livestock systems to provide practical information to producers. This field day will be a great opportunity to look at diverse cover crops, listen to producers and technical experts working with diverse cover crops, and to learn from one another. 

If you are interested in attending this event, or need more information, please contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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