Evaluation of Cover Crop Mixes for Forage Supply (Midwest Forage Association Grant) Back »

View of cover crops planted at Northeast Research Farm.

Written collaboratively by Karla Hernandez and David Karki.

Farmers often look for ways to increase revenue. In the Upper Great Plains it might not be economical, or practical, to plant another grain crop during the growing year, however, cover crops should be considered as they provide multiple benefits. The primary benefit is more forage production which can be used for on-farm use or sold. Environmentally friendly cover crops improve soil quality by protecting it from erosion, increased soil microbial activity, and nutrient cycling, all while managing nitrogen and adding carbon. For this project, our objective was to evaluate different cover crop blends for total forage production and forage quality.

Small plots (3’ x 10’) were planted in July 2017 in a Randomized Complete Block Design (RCBD) with three replicates at the Northeast Research Farm (NE) near South Shore, SD, and Southeast Research Farm (SE) near Beresford, SD. Five to six cover crop blends from each location were used to examine total dry matter (DM) content and forage quality. Dry matter concentration was determined by collecting a sample of harvested biomass and drying at 60oC for 72 hours in a forced-air oven and reweighing the dried biomass. The biomass was sent to SGS North America in Brookings, SD, for forage quality analyses. The data was analyzed using standard ANOVA techniques in Statistix 7 (Analytical Software, 2000). A least significant difference was used to separate means when the appropriate F test was statistically significant (P=0.05). Quality data was used to support and provide knowledge on cover crop performance. Total biomass and forage quality were determined at two locations during 2017 (Table 2). Overall yield did not increase significantly ad forage quality varied among blends.

Even though cover crops can be grown as single species or in a mixture of variety of plant species, they are mostly marketed and grown as blends. In a grazing system it is important to consider the quality of the cover crop to provide good forage for cattle.

Table 1. Cover crop blends used and their main components.

Blend Main Components
Prevent Plant 15% Radish; 7.5% Rapeseed; 15% Crimson Clover; 20% Grazing Sudan; 42.5% Forage Peas
Early Grazing 62% Forage Oats; 15% Millet; 15% Grazing Sudan; 4% Crimson Clover; 2% Radish; 2% Forage Turnip
The Producer 25% Purple Top Turnip; 25% Common Vetch; 20% Cover Crop Radish; 15% Flax; 15% Forage Oats
Balance Plus 30% Turnip; 25% Common Vetch; 20% Cover Crop Radish; 15% Sorghum Sudangrass; 10% Flax
Classic Trio 40% Cover Crop Radish; 30% Dwarf Essex Rapeseed; 30% Purple Top Turnip
Soil Builder 60% Forage Oats; 20% Grazing Sudan; 12% Lentils; 4% Forage Turnip; 4% Radish
Feedlot 65.7% Spring Wheat; 14.3% Lacey Barley; 10% Grazing Sudan; 5% Rapeseed; 5% Radish
Aerial 52.2% Rye; 26.5% Forage Oats; 5.3% Crimson Clover; 5.3% Radish; 5.3% Turnip; 2.6% Vetch; 2.8% Rapeseed
Premium Graze 25% Millet; 25% Turnip; 20% Cow Conditioner; 20% Winfred Brassica; 10% Grazing Radish
Mid-Late Grazing 60% Forage Oats; 20% Grazing Sudan; 12% Lentils; 4% Forage Turnip; 4% Radish

 

Table 2. 2017 yield (DM ton/ac) and forage quality (%) at NE and SE, respectively.

Blend
DM
CP
ADF
NDF
RFV
Total N
Prevent Plant 0.51 0.59 21.2 20.2 31.4 32.3 50.3 47.7 135.5 141.7 2.7 2.7
Early Grazing 0.74 0.50 25.4 17.1 29.9 38.9 49.0 53.4 141.7 117.9 3.2 1.9
The Producer 0.71 0.20 22.4 20.0 32.5 33.1 52.0 43.9 130.1 154.6 2.9 2.7
Balance Plus 0.49 0.13 24.9 21.8 32.9 30.4 50.4 43.9 135.1 158.8 3.1 2.7
Classic Trio 0.59 0.39 23.7 17.9 30.5 36.3 47.2 51.7 146.3 125.6 3.0 2.2
Soil Builder 0.89 0.36 25.5 21.4 29.8 30.1 48.1 42.5 144.7 163.9 3.2 2.8
Feedlot 0.52 0.40 24.4 16.7 32.3 37.8 53.3 52.9 127.5 119.7 3.1 2.1
Aerial Mix 1.03 0.46 23.3 17.2 33.4 37.1 51.0 52.6 131.6 121.3 2.9 2.1
Premium Graze 0.30 0.23 22.2 14.9 33.6 37.2 51.8 57.4 128.6 112.4 2.8 2.0
Mid-Late Grazing 0.42 0.20 26.2 16.3 27.9 38.2 48.2 53.3 146.7 119.1 3.5 2.2

 

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to the Midwest Forage Association for this opportunity to develop small projects that can contribute to facilitate knowledge to producers and growers in South Dakota and the Upper Plains.

Thanks to Dr. David Karki, Co-investigator of this project for his help in the field.

Thanks to Allen Heuer (Northeast Research Farm Manager) and Dr. Peter Sexton (Southeast Research Farm Manager) for their support and for providing the facilities for this experiment.

Thanks to Millborn Seeds and Mustang Seeds for facilitating the seeds for this project.

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