Just Do It !!
Now is an excellent time to improve your soil by planting cover crops. Leaving soil bare exposes it to erosion and nutrient loss. Get it covered and protected.
There are many cover crop seed choices when planting after small grain harvest. You can get complex with various mixtures or keep it simple. An easy to manage, simple cover crop mix that does well this time of year in wheat stubble is oats (1 bu/acre), crimson clover (12 lb/acre), and radish or rape (2 lb/acre). Mixtures provide a variety of benefits that outperform single species plantings.
When using legumes, be sure to inoculate seed with rhizobia for maximum nitrogen gain. Also be careful about hosting soybean cyst nematode if planting to soybeans next year.
This NRCS cover crop chart can be used to make comparisons when selecting species. Combining warm and cool season, grass, brassica, and legume species will provide the greatest diversity for soil health. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/mandan-nd/ngprl/docs/cover-crop-chart/
Have a plan in place for cover crop termination if not winter killed. Spring growth can be managed to maximize nutrient cycling and soil protection before grain crop planting.
Check with your crop insurance agent to make sure you comply with termination requirements.
Summary of Cover Crop Effects on Soil and Water
- Cover crops are grown when the soil is fallow.
- Increase the solar energy harvest and increase carbon in the soil.
- Provide food for macro- and micro-organisms and other wildlife.
- Increase evapotranspiration, increase water infiltration and decrease soil bulk density.
- Reduce sediment production, decrease impacts of raindrops and decrease runoff velocity.
- Increase soil quality by improving the biological, chemical and physical soil properties.
- Increase organic carbon, aggregate stability and water infiltration.
- Grass and brassica species are great N scavengers and increase carbon inputs.
- Legumes increase soil N through nitrogen fixation.
Resources for Further Information
Chapter 10 – Considerations for Using Cover Crops in the 15th edition of the Ohio Agronomy Guide (Bulletin 472) - http://estore.osu-extension.org/Ohio-Agronomy-Guide-15th-Edition-P475.aspx.
Healthy Soil Healthy Environment – http://Soilhealth.osu.edu
Midwest Cover Crop Council – https://mccc.msu.edu
Midwest Cover Crop Field Guide - https://ag.purdue.edu/agry/dtc/Pages/CCFG.aspx
Managing Cover Crops Profitably - https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition