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Cover Crop Mixtures in the 2010-11 Demonstration

The 2010-11 demonstration network included 6 cover crop mixtures and 1 cover crop monoculture: annual ryegrass + crimson clover, annual ryegrass + triticale, cereal rye + oats, cereal rye + rape + hairy vetch, cereal rye + tillage radish + hairy vetch, cereal rye + tillage radish, and cereal rye.
The demonstration site at Landisville, Lancaster County.

The demonstration site at Landisville, Lancaster County.

Introduction

Cover crops are an important way to improve soil and water quality. Planted after economic crop harvest, cover crops recycle left over nutrients and conserve them for the next crop. Cover crop root systems improve soil structure and may make macropores that help improve soil porosity. Cover crops protect the soil from erosion when the living cover is on the land, and in the next crop when they left as mulch on the soil surface after they are killed. The crop residue is an important source of carbon, the base material for all living organisms in the soil, and the origin of humus, the single most important indicator of soil quality.

Despite these soil improving and environmental advantages, cover crops are not yet widely used by Pennsylvania dairy farmers. Important reasons are the cost and effort to establish and manage the cover crop, and the lack of perceived immediate benefits. In this project we evaluate cover crop combinations that serve multiple functions to meet both environmental and production goals with 10 Pennsylvania dairy farmers. We will pay special attention to the ability of these cover crops to provide immediate benefits, such as providing forage for cattle or serving to decrease fertilizer nitrogen needs for the following crop. The project is a collaborative learning effort between Penn State Cooperative Extension and dairy farmers in 10 different Counties in cooperation with producer groups such as the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance and local, state and federal service agencies.

Annual Ryegrass + Crimson Clover

annual ryegrass and crimson clover

Annual ryegrass and crimson clover.

The annual ryegrass and crimson clover mix is a low cost cover crop option with multiple benefits. Both species establish slowly in the fall, but will grow vigorously in the spring. Annual ryegrass has tremendous root growth that will add to soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and prevent nitrogen leaching. Crimson clover will fix nitrogen, reducing the amount of N fertilizer needed the next year. This cover crop mixture makes excellent forage, cut or grazed in the spring.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • VNS Crimson Clover: 15 lbs/acre
  • 'KB Royal' Annual Ryegrass: 10 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $20/acre

 

 

Annual Ryegrass + Triticale

ryegrass triticale

Annual ryegrass and triticale.

The annual ryegrass and triticale mixture is a cover crop with many options for use as a forage. Both species grow slowly in the fall and vigorously in the spring. The mixture can be managed for two forage cuttings in the spring. The first cutting, which will contain mostly triticalte, can be taken after the plants reach 15” tall and until the triticale reaches flag leaf stage. Leave 4” of stubble to enhance re-growth. The second cutting, containing mostly ryegrass, can be made about 3 weeks later. This is also a good mixture for retaining nitrogen and adding organic matter to the soil.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • 'KB Royal' Annual Ryegrass: 5 lbs/acre
  • 'Trical 815' Triticale: 84 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $32/acre

Cereal Rye + Oats

rye oats

Cereal rye and oats.

The Aroostook rye and Jerry oats mixture will maximize both fall and spring growth. Oats will grow rapidly in the fall, providing good soil coverage and nutrient uptake going in to the winter. The oats will winter-kill, but the rye in the mixture will persist and grow rapidly in spring, retaining nutrients, and improving the soil. The growth pattern of this mixture allows for forage production, either cut or grazed in both the fall and the spring.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • 'Aroostook' Rye: 84 lbs/acre
  • 'Jerry' Oats: 70 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $38/acre

 

Cereal Rye + Rape + Hairy Vetch

rye rape vetch

Cereal rye, forage rape, and hairy vetch.

This mixture combines three different plant families for enhanced biodiversity. Expect a dense stand in the spring because of the complementary growth habits- grassy, broadleaved, and vining. This should help to choke out weeds as well as provide significant additions of organic matter. Hairy vetch will fix nitrogen, reducing the amount of N fertilizer needed the next year. Both the hairy vetch and rape could be allowed to flower in the spring, attracting beneficial insects to the field. It could also be used for forage in the spring.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • 'Bonar' Rape: 4 lbs/acre
  • VNS Hairy Vetch: 10 lbs/acre
  • 'Aroostook' Rye: 84 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $55/acre

Cereal Rye + Tillage Radish + Hairy Vetch

rye radish vetch

Cereal rye, tillage radish, and hairy vetch.

This mixture also provides enhanced biodiversity with three different plant families represented. Tillage radish will grow rapidly in the fall, retaining nitrogen, and alleviating compaction with its roots. Tillage radish will winter-kill and leave a taproot hole that can enhance water infiltration into the soil in the spring and summer. Hairy vetch will fix nitrogen, reducing the amount of N fertilizer needed the next year. This mixture could be used for a forage in the spring.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • 'Tillage Radish' Forage Radish: 3 lbs/acre
  • VNS Hairy Vetch: 10 lbs/acre
  • 'Aroostook' Rye: 84 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $52/acre

Cereal Rye + Tillage Radish

radish rye

Cereal rye and tillage radish.

This cover crop mixture is an excellent choice in fall manured fields where retaining nitrogen through the winter is necessary. Tillage radish will grow rapidly in the fall, taking up nitrogen from the soil. Tillage radish winter-kills, releasing stored nitrogen which can be taken up by the rye when it starts to grow rapidly in the spring. The taproot hole left behind by tillage radish can enhance water infiltration into the soil in the spring and summer. Rye will produce significant biomass in the spring, leaving behind a surface residue and adding organic matter to the soil.

Seeding Rate in the Mixture

  • 'Tillage Radish' Forage Radish: 5 lbs/acre
  • 'Aroostook' Rye: 112 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $39/acre

Cereal Rye

cereal rye

Cereal rye.

Cereal rye has been a standard cover crop option in Pennsylvania for many years. Its main advantage is that it can be planted through late October in most parts of the state. However, it grows slowly in the fall, and may not provide significant soil cover or nitrogen uptake when planted late in the fall. Timely management is necessary in the spring, as too much biomass can make no-till planting difficult in the spring. Rye can also deplete the soil of moisture if allowed to grow too much. Rye can be cut for ryelage in the spring, but forage quality will diminish quickly after the flag leaf stage.

Seeding Rate

  • 'Aroostook' Rye: 112 lbs/acre
  • Approximate seed cost: $24/acre