Managing Your Winter Cover Crop

Managing Your Winter Cover Crop

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.

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