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6. Plant A Cover Crop

field with a cover crop Cover crops do an excellent job of controlling soil erosion during the winter and through the critical high-rainfall months of spring.

The primary risk that winter cover crops pose to the next season’s crop is moisture depletion. That is why it is important to watch the weather and kill the cover crop if dry weather sets in.

Advantages of Rye...

In the central and lower U. S. Corn Belt, rye is the preferred nonlegume for a winter cover crop. Advantages of planting grasses such as rye include:

  • Rapid establishment of ground cover in the fall
  • Vigorous growth
  • Recovery of nitrogen from the soil
  • Good winter survival
  • More extensive ground cover
  • Possible weed control due to allelopathic effect
Legume Cover Crop Legume cover crops are capable of nitrogen fixation—they can draw nitrogen from the air and provide it “free” to the following crop. However, the early growth of legumes can be somewhat slower than that of grass cover crops, and many of the legumes are not as winter-hardy as grasses such as rye.
Hairy Vetch Despite the limitations, hairy vetch has usually worked well as a winter cover crop in the southern Midwest. It has fairly good establishment, good fall growth, and vigorous spring growth, especially if it is planted early—during late summer.

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