By Bruce Anderson
After silage harvest, bare ground has two things working against it:
- exposure to wind and water erosion, and
- no plant growth to produce biomass or income.
Cover crops may help overcome both problems.
The kind of cover crop you plant will depend primarily on what you want to achieve with your cover crop. For example, hairy vetch and winter peas are good cover crops if you want to improve your soil by planting a legume that will produce 30 to 40 lb of nitrogen per acre for next year’s crop. If your goal is to break up some hard-pan soil layers, you might use a deep-rooted radish.
If you're still hoping for some feed this fall, oats, spring triticale and barley, annual ryegrass, and turnips might be better choices because these plants have the greatest forage yield potential yet this fall. Spring oats, triticale, and barleys also an advantage in that they'll die over winter and won’t interfere with next year’s crop; however, dead residue from these spring cereals is not very durable, so it provides less effective soil protection and for a shorter duration.
For better soil protection, winter rye is the best choice among the cereals. Cereal rye can provide abundant grazable growth early next spring to get cows off hay sooner. Wheat and triticale also can be good cover crops. Of course, wheat then can be harvested later for grain while triticale makes very good late spring forage.
Another popular option is to plant a mixture of plants to reap some of the benefits of each one.