Guide to planting cover crops in Minnesota

When crops are harvested early, producers have an opportunity to consider planting a cover crop, which can be an excellent addition to crop rotations. Benefits include:

  • Improved water infiltration.

  • Reduced soil erosion.

  • Ability to scavenge excess nitrogen and phosphorus.

  • Provide additional nutrients.

  • Utilize excess moisture.

  • Extended grazing season.

  • Improved soil health.

  • Food source for pollinators.

Trying one to two species of cover crops and planting them in early-harvested fields will set up the fields for long-term success. Particularly good years to try cover crops are when soil moisture is ideal for germination.

How to get started

The best approach is to keep it simple.

In fields where wheat was just harvested, one option is to allow the wheat to reseed itself without tilling the land. As long as the soil is covered, this would be considered a cover crop.

However, this may cause issues by creating a wet mat of plant residue on the soil surface in the spring. A better option may be to seed cereal rye into the volunteer wheat, so the rye can use the extra moisture in the spring.

Choosing a cover crop

When starting out, using one or two cover crops is an excellent way to get acquainted with their benefits.

When commodity prices are lower, expensive seed mixes aren’t necessary. The most popular choices are forage radish and cereal rye. Before choosing a cover crop, consider the following questions:

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Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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