Consider a cover crop now

By Susan Harlow, editor, Northeast DairyBusiness

    Larry Martin, a Bradford, Vt., dairy producer, hasn’t purchased commercial fertilizer, even starter fertilizer, for four years. Manure and nutrients from a cover crop of winter rye provide his 21-acre corn crop with whatever it needs for good yields.
   There’s a lot of encouragement these days for cover crops on cropland. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is offering growers an incentive payment of $30 an acre to plant a cover crop of annual rye this year. The White River Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD)  is supplementing that payment with $5 an acre in selected towns along the streams in its area.
  A cover crop provides several benefits:


• Erosion control

• Uptake of nutrients in the fall and early spring that will be available to next year’s crop, after the rye is incorporated as green manure.

• Improved organic matter

• Weed suppression

• Good public relations with the nonfarm public.

            With extra nutrients from cover crops, the cost in fuel and time for tillage may easily be offset by the savings in nitrogen costs these days. Producers in much of northern New England have been slow to adopt cover cropping because late corn harvests and labor shortages have made it tough to get rye seeded in time for sufficient growth before winter. But the development of short season hybrids is making that easier, says Tim McKay, Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist.
    Martin has been using cover crops for 10 years. “I think it’s well worth the trouble,” he says. Last year, it cost him $40 an acre to seed winter rye at about 100 lbs. per acre. He has the rye custom-seeded after harvesting corn in the fall. The rye usually get 3 to 4 inches of growth by winter. In the spring, around the first of May, he spreads manure on the rye, then harrows it down.


For more information on the NRCD program, contact Abbey Willard, White River NRCD, 802-828-4493, Ext. 110, or Suzanne Enser, Ex. 112.
For information on the Farm Agronomics Practices program at Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, call Matt Kittredge, 802-828-6908.


 For more information on cover crops, go to:

 Choose a cover crop

A new online decision tool from Cornell University can help you choose a cover crop. It gives the user information on cover crops based on management goals, planting time and/or duration. It includes different cover crops and production instructions.
The cover crop tool is designed to complement the new Cornell Soil Health Test. Find it at