Cover Crops during Drought

Recently I’ve been asked by several producers about the feasibility of planting cover crops during drought so I researched several different articles. Kris Nichols a soil microbiologist with USDA ARS in North Dakota says that when in a drought, farmers should consider planting a cover crop as they play a vital role in soil and plant health. Nichols said in a Farm Industry News article, “Many times during a drought, plants are not as much water stressed as they are nutrient stressed. The way plants get nutrients from the soil to their roots is through water. In times of drought, plants will sometimes give off their own water supply to create a water fill around the roots so nutrients can travel.”

Will there be enough moisture for the cover crops to germinate? According to Justin Fruechte, cover crop and forage specialist for Millborn Seeds in South Dakota, even in drought stricken areas, cover crops can still grow. Fruechte says that, “Most species have very fine seeds and require little moisture to germinate. When planting into dry soil, be sure to close the furrow tightly and that seed will wait for moisture.”

UNL Extension Educator, Paul Hay pointed out that for those needing grazing, turnips can be seeded in the later part of August until early September. Fall rains will dictate the amount of growth. For those with experience, there is lots of feed long after the tops are gone, as the cattle root out the tubers. Oats can also be a late fall opportunity for haying or grazing. Oats will do better in fall production. Wheat, rye or triticale would be better choices for spring pastures which could be grazed off before killing them and planting summer crops.

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