Cover crops are a complex topic in many ways. There are lots of choices, each with different strengths and weaknesses, and each suited best for different goals and field conditions. That’s where an interactive website can be a big help.
There are dozens of cover crop options, and you’ll need to decide which one — or which combination of species — you’d like to use on each field you have in mind.
To make that decision, you need to take into account what you’d like to accomplish with the crops, what cash crops the cover crops will be sandwiched between, the hardiness of the various cover crop options for your area, the soil conditions of the field and more.
It’s not an easy decision. Your seed supplier can be a big help, but you might like to examine all the options yourself before placing your seed order.
One of the most useful online tools for evaluating cover crop options for specific situations and locations is the Midwest Cover Crops Council Decision Tool. Kansas now has been added to this online resource, she said.
At least a dozen K-State specialists, as well as representatives from the USDA-NRCS and the seed industry, have been working for a while now to provide the information needed to have Kansas become part of this fantastic online tool.
The address of the decision tool is www.mccc.msu.edu.
When you open that page, click onto Selector Tools, then row crop tools, and from there you can start to enter your field specific information.
You’ll find this tool will give you much more than just a list of cover crop species that we know will work in Kansas. It’s an interactive tool. Producers enter some information specific to their own operation, and the website then selects some of the best cover crop options for that localized situation.
The first step after logging onto the website is to select your state and county. Then select the cash crop you’ll have on a given field, and pick a planting and harvest date. You then choose a soil drainage type, and whether the field has tile drainage (if it is poorly drained at all) or is subject to flooding. The next step is to choose the top three goals for your cover crop.
Example: Select Butler County. Then choose soybeans as the cash crop, with May 16 as the planting date and Oct. 15 as the harvest date. Let’s say the field is somewhat poorly drained, does not have tile drainage and is not subject to flooding. If the goals are “soil builder,” “lasting residue” and “good grazing,” in that order, then you’ll find a list of 14 possible cover crop options.
The website will shade out the period of time during the year when the cash crop will be growing, and will show you when each of the cover crops it selects for you can or should be planted. In this example, winter barley is one of the possible cover crops selected, and it could be planted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. The website rates it (on a numerical scale of 0 to 4, with 4 being excellent) as excellent as a soil builder, very good for lasting residue and excellent as a grazing option. Finally, you can click on each of the cover crops selected to get more information about it, including seeding rates and depths and more.
Funding for the development of the Kansas portion of this website came from the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops and the Division of Conservation from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. DeAnn Presley is on the Midwest Cover Crops Council board of directors.
• Information provided by DeAnn Presley, K-State soil management specialist, and Peter Tomlinson, environmental quality specialist.
Stacy Campbell is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent for Ellis County.