Wheat is one of the cheapest and easiest winter covers to establish. Planted at 50#/acre, seed cost can range from $8-$18 an acre depending on the source and yearly availability. Wheat will grow on a wide range of soils and sites and is well suited for reducing wind and water erosion and scavenging nutrients. It’s relatively shallow root system does little to reduce compacted zones at depths of 4 inches and greater. Wheat is easily terminated late winter through early spring and fits well with March/April planting of corn and soybeans. While the low residue produced by wheat does not interfere with spring planting, it also does not provide an appreciable amount of organic matter back to the system.

CCS Winter Forage Triticale is a hybrid of durum wheat and cereal rye that exhibits good biomass production and rapid early growth in the fall. This is particularly important at later planting dates when rapid foliar growth is necessary for reducing erosion, suppressing weeds and reducing stand damage caused by feeding snow geese. This variety of triticale exhibited good root growth through compacted layers, which we suspect will help improve soil structure and water infiltration throughout the coming growing season. Good and consistent growth was observed across many soil types and survival was noted in low lying areas subject to some winter flooding.

Triticale and Tillage Radish® planted on October 10, 2014, photograph taken February 4, 2015.
Triticale and Tillage Radish® planted on October 10, 2014, photograph taken February 4, 2015.

Cereal Rye is a winter cover crop that is easy to establish and provides good early growth in the fall. One of the more common and available varieties in the Mississippi Delta is Elbon Rye, which is distinctly different from both annual ryegrass and Italian ryegrass. Research on cereal rye in the Mississippi Delta suggests that this cover crop can improve soil organic matter and water infiltration rates. This is due in part to the large amount of biomass that it can produce given adequate growing time. Cereal rye can also help suppress weed growth through direct competition, development of a thatch layer, and allelopathy (plant produced chemical suppression).

Grass roots of cereal rye growing through a compacted layer of soil. <em>Photo by Rachel Stout Evans.</em>
Grass roots of cereal rye growing through a compacted layer of soil. Photo by Rachel Stout Evans.
Tillage Radish® is a deep rooted Brassica that is easy to both establish and terminate. This cover crop can produce a tap root that can to depths greater than 4 ft which can help break up deeper compacted zones and create pathways for improved water infiltration. The large tuber that it produces serves as an excellent nutrient scavenger and the ease of termination coupled with rapid decomposition enables a timely release of captured nutrients to the following cash crop. This cover crop has proven to perform very well across a range of soil types in the Mississippi Delta, however it does not grow well in saturated soils or frequently flooded sites.
60 days growth on Tillage Radish planted October 1, 2014 in Bolivar County, MS. While the tap root is broken off in this picture, a soil pit revealed tap root growth to approximately 36 inches.
60 days growth on Tillage Radish planted October 1, 2014 in Bolivar County, MS. While the tap root is broken off in this picture, a soil pit revealed tap root growth to approximately 36 inches.
Hairy Vetch is a drought tolerant winter legume that provides good early growth in the fall and really excels when planted in a mix with other species such as Triticale and Tillage Radish. Experience suggests that the greater fall growth may result in higher levels of nitrogen fixation in comparison to crimson clover in an early termination situation.
Nodulation recorded Jan. 26, 2015 on Hairy Vetch planted Oct. 1, 2014.
Nodulation recorded Jan. 26, 2015 on Hairy Vetch planted Oct. 1, 2014.

Crimson Clover is a commonly planted legume that serves well for erosion control and nitrogen fixation. In early termination scenarios, early establishment is key to obtaining the growth needed for optimal nitrogen fixation. In the fall/winter of 2014, a planting date of October 1 did not allow for adequate time to fully realize the benefits this plant could provide. When planted in a mix, care should be taken to ensure the seed is not buried too deep, which could delay germination and growth.

Tillage Radish® + Winter Triticale provides excellent ground coverage and root growth when planted on or before mid-October. The absence of a legume lowers the seed cost and makes this mixture more fitting prior to a soybean crop rotation.

The mix of Tillage Radish® + Winter Triticale + Hairy Vetch is an excellent cover crop mix, and the addition of a legume provides additional benefits to a subsequent corn crop.

Blending seeds for custom mixtures can easily be accomplished by loading seed boxes with the appropriate ratio of seed and dropping the mixture into a seed tender. In most instances, by the time seed is delivered to the field and augered into the planter or spreader, the seed mix is relatively uniform and sufficient for the intended purpose.

Hairy Vetch planted Oct. 1, 2014 produced good biomass and ground cover by Jan. 26, 2015 (photo date).
Hairy Vetch planted Oct. 1, 2014 produced good biomass and ground cover by Jan. 26, 2015 (photo date).
Cover crop stand conditions one day prior to a Jan. 26, 2015 termination. Note the larger Tillage Radish experienced frost/freeze mortality. In addition to Tillage Radish, this field also contains Winter Triticale, Hairy Vetch, and Crimson Clover.
Cover crop stand conditions one day prior to a Jan. 26, 2015 termination. Note the larger Tillage Radish experienced frost/freeze mortality. In addition to Tillage Radish, this field also contains Winter Triticale, Hairy Vetch, and Crimson Clover.

Disclaimer: Through the 2014 Cover Crop Trials we were able to observe the planting and growth of numerous cover crop species across more than 5,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta. The information provided here intends to summarize our experiences and lessons learned.