How to Manage Your Cover Crop This Winter
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How to Manage Your Cover Crop This Winter

Even with cover crops in the ground already, there is still plenty to do.

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November 19, 2021

As November ticks into the holiday season, it may be too late to plant a cover crop on the land you used for hemp this past summer, but there are still plenty of things to keep in mind to ensure healthy soil and a productive planting in the future. (Cereal rye may be feasible as a cover crop at this point in the year, according to Anna Morrow, program manager of the Midwest Cover Crop Council, although it may not germinate until the spring.)

But even with cover crops in the ground already, there is still plenty to do.

The Midwest Cover Crop Council advises that growers monitor their cover crop regularly. The cover crop is what’s known as a “change in management” practice, and it changes the ecology of the field. Growers should watch for pests, weeds and other disturbances within the crop.

Winter weather poses its own risks, too.

Cover crops are typically divided between winter-hardy species and winter-killed species, but extreme weather tends not to distinguish.

“The thing that is hardest on overwintering crops is really cold temperatures—and especially ice,” Morrow says. Freezing rain, in fact, may kill a species that is otherwise hardy and suited for the winter.

Snow, on the other hand, can help quite a bit, protecting crops like oats or radishes from cold wind above the ground.

“Snow is an excellent insulator,” Morrow says.

Looking ahead to spring management, farmers will want to use their end goals to dictate the transition from cover crops to hemp planting. Fiber and grain hemp crops will require different management practices than cannabinoid-rich transplants—which might only need you to terminate strips of the cover crop, rather than the whole field.

And as you did earlier in the winter, remember: Monitor pests and weeds along the way.

The bottom line is that cover crops, like anything else in hemp, require a plan. Now is the time to consider how your team will handle the land after next year’s harvest.

“We want people to be successful,” Morrow says. “That means making the plans, doing the research, thinking things through ahead of time. Seed availability varies quite a bit from year to year. Prices fluctuate a lot. It really does pay to make that plan early.

Hemp Grower columnist and Purdue University researcher Marguerite Bolt had this to say about the Midwest Cover Crop Council’s Selector Tool:

It’s an interactive and free tool created by researchers from land-grant universities across the Midwest to help growers in the region find cover crop options ideal for their operations. Farmers select their state, county, goals for the cover crop, cash crop (but hemp is not on here yet), and the drainage or flooding in their field, and the tool offers a variety of cover crop recommendations.
While hemp is not yet listed, corn is the closest crop that growers can use for comparison because the planting dates are similar, and both are heavy nutrient users. Some growers may want to select ‘warm season vegetables’ if they are CBD growers transplanting.