Corn & Soybean Rotation Ideas
Crop rotations that include a summer harvested crop are relatively easy to integrate cover crops into, but the very common corn-soybean rotation presents a much larger challenge. A short growing season before planting and after harvest in a corn-soybean rotation limits, but does not eliminate, cover crop opportunities. While the late planting date that occurs following corn or soybean harvest limits the number of species that can be successful, there are still some species that can work in this situation. Cereal rye is probably the most successful species with very late planting dates.
Some producers are jump starting their soil’s biological activity after a long winter by planting a simple cover crop ahead of their warm season commodity crop. Utilizing oats, peas, vetch, lentils, flax, and rapeseed tends to produce more biomass ahead of later planted crops like soybeans, sorghum, or sunflowers than it does with early planted corn, however biological stimulation of the soil will begin occurring after 2-3 weeks of cover crop growth. Spring planting is more risky in more arid climates but can have very beneficial results in allowing planting to occur in areas with wet springs. If you are interested in trying this on a trial basis or on a large scale, we can help you design a mix that makes sense for your operation.
Shorter Season Crops
One method of getting cover crops integrated into a corn-soybean rotation is to switch some acres over to shorter season cash crops to allow for earlier harvest windows. Shorter season corn and beans still have almost 100% of the yield potential of longer season varieties, but offer opportunities to harvest early and plant cover crops in the fall. Every day of growing in September is worth two days in October so every day counts when it comes to growing cover crop biomass. Don’t switch over the whole farm, but start with the fields that can benefit from cover crops the most and see what happens.
Since many farmers struggle to incorporate diversity into their crop rotation, some are looking to push the traditional boundaries by growing covers within the commodity crop during the growing season. Experimentation with this inter-seeding concept has been going on for several years, but this technique is still very much in its infancy and has a number of obstacles to overcome. The best results have occurred when covers are inter-seeded in corn between the V3-V7 stage and a stand gets established before the corn canopies and sunlight is lost. Initial success has come using soybeans, cow peas, clovers and annual rye-grass as companion crops and drilled stands almost always perform better than broadcast seeds, even in high moisture conditions. We encourage you to experiment on a small scale but proceed with caution and check with your crop insurance agent to maintain compliance.
Consider Cereal Crops
Incorporating a cereal crop into your rotation gives you the opportunity to plant an extravagant array of cover crop combinations after summer harvest. Summer planted mixtures can accomplish a wide range of goals including livestock forage, soil building, erosion prevention, compaction reduction, and many more. Incorporating cereal crops also gives you the opportunity to get some extra improvement work done to the property including putting in tile, waterways, ponds, terraces, etc., and still stabilize the site with a great cover leading into the winter.