Cover Crops & Soil Health

Cover crops and their role in improving soil conditions is an important consideration with many agricultural crops. Whether cover crops are worth the cost with white or red winter wheat has been the subject of early research funded by the Michigan Wheat Program.

At the beginning of its research agenda in 2012, the wheat check-off funded an investigation by Dr. Dean Baas, MSU extension educator in sustainable agriculture, to confirm and quantify the value of oilseed radish (OSR) interplanted with wheat. Many successful wheat farmers have long believed that OSR helps increase yields.

It is also believed that cover crops after wheat make a big contribution to soil health. Dr. Kim Cassida, MSU assistant professor and forage specialist for MSU Extension, did that research. Read on, to see what does and does not work in Michigan.

Note:  MSU and the Michigan Wheat Program caution that three years of data should always be reviewed to get a more complete picture of research results. Farmers also must weigh input costs for fertilizer, fungicides and other inputs against the up-side of higher yields.

Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 3

Research by Dr. Christy Sprague and Claudia Walz, MS

2023 Report:  Winter Wheat Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 3

In the third and final year of this project, Dr. Sprague reported out on two significant findings.

First, Sprague noted nine cover crops that can be safely planted after winter wheat harvest when certain herbicides are spring-applied.  Those cover crops are: Annual ryegrass, cereal rye, oats, crimson clover, red clover, oilseed radish Mustard calienta, dwarf Essex rapeseed and Austrian winter pea.

These cover crops were sown and evaluated after spring applications of Affinity BroadSpec, Talinor, Huskie, Axial Gold, Osprey, Osprey Xtra, PowerFlex HL, Quelex and Stinger for weed control.

Sprague noted that over the life of the research there less than 15% injury observed to these cover crops, no reductions in stand and no reductions in end of year biomass.  A few treatments had some injury to winter pea and red clover, but resulted in no reductions in biomass.

The second area of focus looked at impact of five burndown herbicides applied after wheat harvest. The same nine cover crops were evaluated. These results are more nuanced and should be reviewed by farmers planning cover crops after a burndown herbicide.

Click below to review Dr. Sprague’s 2023 final report and data chart.

Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 2

Research by Dr. Christy Sprague and Claudia Walz

2022 Report:  Winter Wheat Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 2

In the second year of this three-year project, the Sprague lab continued to look at the effects that eight herbicides typically spring-applied to winter wheat have on nine types of summer-planted cover crops.

Sprague’s summary to this point indicates that when adequate rainfall is present, the data shows that Austrian winter pea can be difficult to establish.  She also notes that caution should be used when planting red clover after spring Huskie application and also for Austrian winter pea after Talinor, Huskie and Affinity BroadSpec.

Click below to review the 2022 final report and data chart.  The research project was funded again by the Michigan Wheat Program for 2023, with results available at a later date.

Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 1

Research by Dr. Christy Sprague and Dean Bass

2021 Report:  Winter Wheat Herbicide Effects on Cover Crop Establishment – Year 1

This research project was funded to develop recommendations for cover crops that follow wheat harvest, so that growers can avoid damage caused by residual common winter wheat herbicides. Spring herbicide treatments are commonly used to manage weeds in winter wheat, but there has been little to no information available on the tolerance of these cover crops seeded after harvest.

Sprague’s research took place in three locations across the state, comparing eight herbicides vs. control on nine different cover crops.  The cover crops in these 81 research plots were evaluated for establishment of the cover crop 28 days after seeding, and injury caused by the herbicide treatments.

Cover crops evaluated were: Annual ryegrass, cereal rye, oats, red clover, crimson clover, dwarf essex rapeseed, oilseed radish, mustard and Austrian winter pea.

Click below to review the 2021 PowerPoint slides and the final report for the first year of this project.