Cover Crop Research Update

As many of you know, Penn State has been doing “On Farm” cover crop research for several years now. Recently, we have moved from doing small strips and replicated small plots to also planting large blocks of species.
Zimmerman: Rye and Crimson Clover May 2nd

Zimmerman: Rye and Crimson Clover May 2nd

This past season, I worked with three dairy farmers to establish 10 acre blocks of species which would work well with their cropping systems. All three of these farmers are also participating in research to evaluate no-till dairy manure injection vs. their traditional broadcast systems.

I bring this up now because the wheat is coming off and corn silage will not be far behind. Doing some creative planning now will allow you to be ready for our prime cover crop planting season which runs from mid-August through the end of September here in the Southeastern part of the state.

Forage tonnage, quality, and availability are always of concern on our dairy farms. Harvesting a second or third crop which also serves as a cover crop can increase the amount of home grown forage in our inventory, protect and build our soils, and help with our nutrient management planning.

On the Garman farm, we planted oats and crimson clover the first week of September. On this farm our goal was to build the soil to aid his transition to no-till and also provide some extra N for the following corn crop. The oats acted as a nurse for the clover, which looked so vigorous that we decided to harvest the crimson clover. While not quite what 1st cutting alfalfa yields, we were still very surprised at how well this annual species yielded—and with 21% Crude Protein and a RFV of 185. The added N from our cover crop plus liquid dairy manure should completely cover crop needs for Nitrogen and other nutrients. Late season corn stalk N testing and yields checks are planned to help evaluate this two crop system.

Garman Crimson Clover Harvest

Garman: Crimson Clover Harvest May 9th

The Zimmerman's had always planned on harvesting their cover crop for forage. Having experience with Rye, they decided to plant 2 bushels of Rye with 15 lbs. of Crimson Clover. This mix was also planted the first week of September.

We were curious whether the Rye would out compete the Clover or not. It seems that both species complimented each other well until mid April when the Rye began to shoot ahead. We’ve marked the silage bag and will pull a fermented sample to compare with Rye alone. Here again, we are hoping that the legume will provide additional N for the planned corn crop as well as add quality to the forage harvest.

My Final Cooperator is Stony Lawn Farms in Middletown. They are avid no-tillers and grow corn for grain. Last year’s corn was combined on Oct 11th. At this site we used Charlie Martin’s High-Boy Seeder to interseed a mix of Ryegrass, Crimsons Clover, and Tillage Radish the third weed of August. We were initially disappointed with the establishment of this mix and blamed the very dry fall for poor stands. However, you can see that the Ryegrass grew very aggressively in April and also had a fair amount of Clover as well. The wet weather delayed our burndown and manure application until April 26th, which also allowed for significant growth.

Manure Injected on Ryegrass/Crimson Clover

Stony Lawn Farms: Manure injected on Ryegrass/ Crimson Clover May 12th

At this site we are anxious to see any advantages the manure and impressive cover crop may have for the corn and will also monitor yields and Nitrogen status.

Take some time during the summer slump to consider ways you might better utilize your most important resource—your land—to grow extra forage, protect and enhance the soil and increase your yields.

Contact Information

Jeffrey S Graybill
  • Extension Educator, Agronomy
Phone: 717-394-6851