Cover up for winter!

FIELD PROTECTION

DOES YOUR SOIL look a bit naked? Silage corn, soybeans, and crops such as edible beans leave little residue to protect the soil and prevent soil erosion over the winter and through the spring melt period. Fall planted cover crops, such as cereal rye, triticale, and winter wheat, can provide that protection by stabilizing the soil while providing other benefits such as adding beneficial nutrients, improving soil moisture and organic matter, and helping to reduce nutrient runoff.

There are challenges to planting these cover crops though. In many parts of southern Ontario, barley and oats can be planted through early to mid-September with the expectation of sufficient growth for soil protection. The advantage to barley and oats is that the cold of winter will usually kill the cover crop. After mid-September the window of growth in the fall is short and cool which really limits the cover crop choices to winter cereals. That means planning on some type of spring control of the cover crop. It also makes timing critical. Cover crop planting needs to be a priority to ensure the cover crop is well established before freeze up. If planting in late fall, cover crop growth can be very limited. Try increasing the cover crop seeding rate to help cover the soil faster.

PHOTO: RYE DRILLED INTO CORN RESIDUE AFTER HARVEST.

Anne Verhallen is the soil management specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. •