Using Corn as a Cover Crop

Silage harvest

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REVISED ON 6/28/2019 AT 1:00 PM FROM ITS ORGINAL POST - Revisions and additions have been BOLDED in the article.

Based on information from across the Corn Belt, including states where they have more experience with delayed planting of corn (University of Wisconsin - http://wisccorn.blogspot.com/2019/06/B102.html) and Iowa State University - https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/cropnews/2019/05/cover-crop-options-prevented-planting-fields), these are our best recommendations for using corn as a cover crop.

Although the yield potential of corn planted in July for grain and silage is very low, corn makes an excellent "emergency" forage when planted in July. Moreover, unlike some other forage crops, Ohio producers know how to grow it. We also are aware of limited seed supply for several alternatives that typically could be used. Farmers should consult with their insurance agent to see if harvesting as forage will affect any current or future insurance payments on prevented plant acres.

As a cover crop, corn can establish a canopy rapidly. It has a deep root system that is highly effective in scavenging nutrients. Even when planted as late as July, it can produce a significant residue.  

To optimize the use of corn as a cover crop, consider the following agronomic practices.

  1. GMO insect traits available in corn are approved for feed. Additionally, Roundup Ready and RR2, Liberty Link and Enlist as well as other herbicide traits are also feed approved. It is illegal to use traited seed harvested for grain in the prior year (i.e. bin run seed) with a transgenic hybrid (bioengineered or GMO) to plant a corn cover crop. 
  2. Plant corn at a higher seeding rate than normal: 40,000 seeds per acre or greater and in narrow rows (22-inch row spacing or less). This will promote canopy closure and result in better erosion and weed control (OSU Agronomy Guide, 15th edition -  https://stepupsoy.osu.edu/sites/hcs-soy/files/Ohio%20Agronomy%20Guide_11APR18.pdf URL verified 6-25-2019).
  3. If seed is treated wth insecticide and is a replant in a field whose failed crop used the same insecticide, be aware that there are upper limits of the amount of active ingredient per field per acre per year. More information will be provided in the CORN Newsletter on July 2, 2019.
  4. Corn may be the only choice for a cover crop depending on herbicide applications earlier in the year.
  5. If corn planted in July as a cover crop produces seed, grain produced must not be harvested.
  6. Corn seeded as a cover crop on Prevented Planting acres may be hayed, grazed, or chopped on or after September 1 for 2019 - https://www.rma.usda.gov/News-Room/Press/Press-Releases/2019-News/RMA-Announces-Change-to-Haying-and-Grazing-Date (URL verified 6-25-2019).
  7. Before grazing, check the herbicide label to ensure there are no restrictions on feeding forage to livestock.
  8. Reduce tillage as much as possible (no-tillage preferable) to ensure soil moisture necessary for germination and to reduce erosion potential while the cover crop develops.
  9. To learn about what GM traits are approved for feed (or other uses), go to the website http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/default.asp
    1. Scroll down to advanced search then input:
    2. Crop [hint – corn is “maize” in this database]
    3. Commercial trait [for example, herbicide tolerance]
    4. Developer [use “any” for the overview, or pick a company for a specific brand]
    5. Country:  United States
    6. Type of Approval:  Feed

About the C.O.R.N. Newsletter

C.O.R.N. Newsletter is a summary of crop observations, related information, and appropriate recommendations for Ohio crop producers and industry. C.O.R.N. Newsletter is produced by the Ohio State University Extension Agronomy Team, state specialists at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). C.O.R.N. Newsletter questions are directed to Extension and OARDC state specialists and associates at Ohio State.